Improving Outcomes for Breast Cancer Patients

Monday 22 June 2020

Improving Outcomes for Breast Cancer Patients

When breast cancer researcher Dr Shannon Joseph heads into work each day, she has one aim in mind - improving outcomes for people diagnosed with the disease.

Though her work in Associate Professor Fiona Simpson's lab at the University of Queensland's Diamantina Institute is highly technical and involves language, terms, and equipment that would go over most people's heads, at the end of the day her role as a researcher has goals we can all relate to and thousands can benefit from.

With a number of drugs that target cancer already on the market, some of which stick to the cancer cells and flag them for the body's immune system to attack, Dr Joseph's work is focussed on improving their effectiveness and the numbers of people they are able to work for.

"The Simpson lab looks at a range of different cancer types and drugs, my work is focusing on this system in breast cancer," she said.

"On a day to day basis, we grow breast cancer cells in tissue culture in the laboratory and we use these cells for our experiments. We tested whether different drug combinations could kill cancer cells.

"We analysed where the drug target was in the breast cancer cells by microscopy. We then tested if we could kill the breast cancer cells by adding immune cells and if our drug combinations could improve the immune cell-mediated killing of the breast cancer cells."

Dr Joseph said working at the Translational Research Institute on the PA Hospital campus has greatly advanced the success of her work, allowing her to work closely with clinicians to enable collaboration and access to patient samples for research.

Dr Blerida Banushi and Dr Shannon JosephL-R Dr Blerida Banushi and Dr Shannon Joseph

With the Simpson lab's research at an exciting juncture, lab funding support has never been more important.

"Our research is providing the pre-clinical data to support clinical trials. The clinical trials will give patients more treatment options and if they show efficacy, they have the potential to change clinical care," Dr Joseph said.

"The ultimate goal of our research is to improve outcomes for patients.

"PA Research Foundation funding has meant that I could continue working in the Simpson lab and continue to drive the breast cancer projects. These projects and achievements may not have happened if Dr Blerida Banushi and I were not supported."

For Dr Joseph, ongoing funding would bring certainty and a renewed vigour and focus on better outcomes for the 1 in 7 Australian women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 85, as like many in the research field long term employment is never guaranteed and mainly funded by yearly contracts.

"Donating to medical research is extremely important. Scientists and clinicians need to be able to continue to do research if the community wants to see advances in current technologies and better treatments. Any donation is certainly highly regarded and appreciated by us as researchers," she said.
"Having now published our work in the Cell journal (The world's top ranked science journal) we are now working with collaborators in Sydney and elsewhere to establish Phase II breast cancer-specific trials."

Given the chance to meet anyone who donated to the PA Research Foundation and the work of the Simpson lab, Dr Joseph would convey a simple but poignant message.

"I would like them to know that we don't take any donations lightly and we try to make everything count," she said.
"Research is not just a job to us; in the bigger picture we use the donations to further knowledge with the hope to make this world a better place to live in."

Donate to support the work of Dr Shannon Joseph in improving outcomes for people with breast cancer here