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Sherene Loi, MMBS (Hons), FRACP, PhD, FAHMS
Professor, Cancer Therapeutics
Head, Translational Breast Cancer Genomics and Therapeutics Lab
Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre
University of Melbourne
Goal: To enhance immunity in breast cancer and identify new treatments.
Impact: Dr. Loi’s work is focused on a type of immune cell called tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) that surround the tumor and can launch an anti-tumor attack. Most breast cancers, however, have very few TILs, which may explain why most patients don’t benefit from immunotherapies. Understanding how breast cancers can or cannot generate an immune response could lead to new treatment combinations that would reactivate anti-tumor immunity.
What’s next: She and her team will continue their efforts to characterize breast cancer immune cells in order to understand how specific cells protect against breast cancer recurrence and development.
Checkpoint inhibitor therapy—a newer type of immune-based treatment—works by blocking the tumor cell from shutting down the body’s anti-tumor immune response. While it has been effective in some cancers, few patients with breast cancer have benefitted thus far from this type of treatment. In the coming year, Dr. Loi will be researching how to make triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) more immunogenic so more patients can respond to immunotherapy. In addition, with the largest dataset of premenopausal patients breast cancer samples, she and her team will begin gene expression profiling of these samples to try to understand the biological pathways, including immune pathways, that are important in prognosis of young women’s breast cancer.
Full Research Summary
Research area: Understanding how anti-breast cancer immunity is generated in order to develop new therapeutic approaches for patients.
Impact: Immunotherapy reemerged with the discovery of checkpoint proteins that work to shut down an immune response. Under normal circumstances immune checkpoints prevent an overactive immune response, as occurs in autoimmune diseases. Tumor cells, however, will increase activity of the checkpoint proteins to hide from immune cells. While checkpoint-targeted immunotherapy, such as PD-L1 inhibitors, has been effective in treating some breast cancer patients, most do not benefit from the therapy. Dr. Loi’s work is focused on immune cells called tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs), which have the ability to recognize and attack tumors and are associated with better patient outcomes. Her work may reveal ways that TILs could be manipulated in order to develop better treatments for breast cancer.
Current investigation: Dr. Loi and her colleagues have been investigating the types and function of immune cells that exist in both breast cancer and normal breast tissue in order to learn how an individual person can develop immunity that protects them from breast cancer.
What she’s learned so far: The team discovered that combining PD-L1 targeted therapy with other therapies already used to treat some types of breast cancer, like PARP inhibitors, has a synergistic effect and could be a viable strategy to treat TNBC, which has few treatment options.
What’s next: Dr. Loi will continue her work to make TNBC more immunogenic. She and her team are also undertaking a new project studying samples collected from premenopausal women with hormone receptor (HR)-positive breast cancer. Dr. Loi is performing gene expression profiling of these samples to try to integrate genetic and immune infiltration data and provide a comprehensive understanding of the biology of young women’s HR-positive breast cancer.
Sherene Loi MD, PhD, is a clinician scientist and medical oncologist specializing in the treatment of breast cancer. She also leads a lab that focuses on understanding the genomic and immune interface in breast cancer with the aim to investigate and develop novel therapeutics in the preclinical space. Clinically her current research focus is the evaluation of novel and rational combinations of targeted and immune therapies for breast cancer patients. She leads the Breast Cancer Clinical Trials Unit at the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre (VCCC) in Melbourne, Australia.
She completed her medical oncology training in Melbourne, Australia. She worked in Brussels, Belgium at the Breast International Group clinical trials headquarters for around 8 years before returning to the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Melbourne, now part of the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre, in 2013. She is an active member of the Breast Cancer Trials Australian and New Zealand Cooperative Group and co-heads the Translational Working Group of the International Breast Cancer Study Group (IBCSG) Bern, Switzerland She also holds an Endowed Chair from the National Breast Cancer Foundation of Australia. She is a Professor Medicine at the University of Melbourne and a fellow of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences.