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Johanna A. Joyce, PhD

University of Lausanne
Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research
Lausanne, Switzerland

Current Research

  • Seeking to prevent metastasis and drug resistance by enhancing anti-tumor immunity and response to cancer therapies.
  • Laboratory studies are ongoing to understand the role of the immune cells on drug resistance and tumor promotion.
  • This research may ultimately lead to therapeutic strategies that will improve the effect of cancer killing drugs.

In order for tumors to become invasive and spread to other tissues–a process called metastasis–they require help from other non-cancer cells, including immune cells. Instead of seeing the tumor as the enemy, the immune cells help it by making it resistant to therapy. Dr. Joyce is conducting studies to understand the underlying biology of this process and to devise effective strategies to intervene. 

Full Research Summary

Cancers develop in a complex microenvironment. As the tumor grows, it 'hijacks' other non-cancerous cells from surrounding tissue and the bone marrow to help it grow and spread. Many of these cells are immune cells that when hijacked by the tumor, help the tumor “hide” from the cancer-killing cells of the immune system and resist anti-cancer therapies.

In previous work, Dr. Joyce's group found that a type of immune cells called macrophages accumulate in breast tumors after treatment and protect tumor cells against chemotherapy drugs. They also found that obesity promotes the accumulation of another type of immune cell, called neutrophils, both in the circulation and within the lung. This significantly enhanced breast metastasis to the lung in laboratory experiments.

In the past year, her team extensively characterized the immune landscape of breast cancer brain metastases, which has been poorly understood to date. In these studies, they found that neutrophils were abundant in cells in these metastatic lesions. 

This year, Dr. Joyce's team will expand these findings by investigating how macrophages and neutrophils promote metastasis. They will also continue to devise strategies to target other factors in the microenvironment that interfere with chemotherapy efficacy. Thus, this research may ultimately lead to therapeutic strategies for enhancing the efficacy of existing FDA-approved drugs.


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


Donor Recognition

The ANN INC. Award (a division of ascena retail group inc.)

Area(s) of Focus