Titles and Affiliations

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

Research area

Understanding the role of immune cells in mediating breast cancer progression, metastasis, and therapeutic response.


Breast cancer is one of three cancer types that most frequently give rise to brain metastases (BrM). Depending on the subtype, a substantial proportion of patients are at high risk of developing BrM over the course of their disease: approximately 14 percent in hormone receptor-positive patients;  34 percent in HER2-positive patients; and 46 percent in advanced triple-negative patients. Unfortunately, the development of BrM confers a devastating prognosis for patients since there is poor response to currently available treatment strategies, including immunotherapies. Dr. Joyce is investigating the role of the tumor microenvironment (TME) in the progression of breast cancer to BrM and hopes to exploit her findings to develop novel strategies for treating patients. She will systematically explore the key TME components of breast cancer BrM (BC-BrM). 

Progress Thus Far

To date, Dr. Joyce’s team has conducted a comprehensive investigation of neutrophils and T cells—immune cells found in the tumor microenvironment. They found that both neutrophils and T cells are enriched within BC-BrM lesions. Moreover, BC-BrM neutrophils have distinct characteristics and are more abundant in the immune cell population in BC-BrM than in any other type of brain tumor. They analyzed the gene expression profiles of T cells and neutrophils to determine how these cells change upon entering the unique brain tumor microenvironment. They found that the local tumor environment profoundly alters immune cell activity and are deciphering the exact mechanisms behind this modulation. 

What's next

In the coming year, they will continue to investigate the unique changes that neutrophils and T cells undergo as they enter the brain TME as well as explore other potential immune suppressive processes that occur within the BC-BrM tumor microenvironment. They will decipher the key mechanisms that hamper T cell recruitment, activation, and sustained anti-tumor activity in BC-BrM, processes that may contribute to the poor response of these tumors to standard-of-care treatment, including immunotherapies. 


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.

BCRF Investigator Since