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Johanna A. Joyce, PhD

Professor, Department of Oncology
University of Lausanne
Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research
Executive Director, Agora Cancer Centre
Lausanne, Switzerland

Current Research

Goal: To prevent metastasis and drug resistance by enhancing anti-tumor immunity and response to cancer therapies.

Impact: Dr. Joyce is conducting laboratory studies to understand the role immune cells play in drug resistance and tumor promotion. This work may lead to the development of strategies to reduce—or even prevent—the spread of breast cancer.

What’s next: She and her team will explore how immune cells that infiltrate at high numbers into breast cancer brain metastases can be therapeutically harnessed to reduce or prevent the metastatic spread of breast cancer to the brain. 

In order for tumors to become invasive and spread to other tissues—a process called metastasis—they need help from other non-cancer cells, including immune cells. These cells, when hijacked by the tumor, help the tumor “hide” from the cancer-killing cells of the immune system and resist treatment. Dr. Joyce is conducting studies to understand the underlying biology of this process and devise effective strategies to prevent it from occurring.

Full Research Summary

Research area: Understanding the role of immune cells in promoting breast cancer progression, metastasis, and therapeutic response. 

Impact: Tumors develop in a complex microenvironment in which cancer cells can “hijack” the functions of non-cancerous immune cells, recruited from the surrounding tissue or from the circulation. Dr. Joyce is investigating the roles of microenvironment-supplied factors in promoting cancer progression, drug resistance and metastasis in breast cancer. Her work may ultimately lead to therapeutic strategies that will improve the effect of cancer-killing drugs.

Current investigation: Metastatic progression to the brain confers a very poor prognosis for breast cancer patients. Although several studies have explored the underlying mechanisms driving the spread of breast cancer cells to the brain, comparatively little is known about the involvement of non-cancerous cells, particularly immune cells, present in the tumor microenvironment. Dr. Joyce is exploring the mechanism of action of immune cells that infiltrate breast cancer brain metastases and developing methods to therapeutically target them to reduce or prevent metastasis of breast cancer to the brain. 

What she’s learned so far: She and her team have compared the immune cell landscape of breast cancer brain metastases (BCBM) with that of brain metastases originating from other primary cancers and other brain tumors. They found that both neutrophils and T lymphocytes are enriched within BCBM lesions compared to the other brain tumors and that BCBM neutrophils have distinct characteristics compared to those found in other brain metastases. 

What’s next: Dr. Joyce will continue working to understand how immune cells found in the tumor microenvironment of BCBM differ from those for other brain tumors. They will continue to define the role of neutrophils in the progression of BCBM and determine ways to therapeutically exploit any vulnerabilities to reduce—or even prevent—the spread of breast cancer to the brain.

Biography

Johanna Joyce joined the Ludwig Institute of Cancer Research, University of Lausanne, Switzerland in 2016. Prior to that, she led a lab at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, USA for 11 years where she was promoted through the ranks to tenured Professor and Full Member. Prof. Joyce has received multiple awards and honours including from the American Cancer Society, the Rita Allen Foundation, the Sidney Kimmel Foundation, the Geoffrey Beene Foundation, and the V Foundation, among others. The Joyce lab is focused on investigating the tumor microenvironment of primary cancers and metastatic disease, and in determining the critical influence that non-cancerous stromal cells can have on tumor progression and therapeutic response. She received her doctorate in Biology from the University of Cambridge, England in 1999 and completed her postdoctoral training in Dr. Douglas Hanahan's lab at University of California, San Francisco.

Grid Researcher Headshot - Joyce

BCRF Investigator Since

2009

Donor Recognition

The Ann Taylor and LOFT Award

Area(s) of Focus