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September 10, 2021

Neta Erez, PhD

Tel Aviv University

ICRF Project Grant

Researcher Shares Significant Findings on Breast Cancer Metastasis

Neta Erez, PhD, of the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University, is the recipient of several ICRF grants.  ICRF recently spoke to her about her research in tumor metastasis.

Your most recent research was published in eLife, can you briefly describe your findings?

Mortality from breast cancer is almost exclusively a result of tumor metastasis. Since advanced metastatic cancers are currently incurable, understanding the biology of tumor metastasis is the most significant challenge in cancer research today. The early stages of metastasis between the resection of primary tumor and diagnosis of clinically-evident metastases are currently a “black box” in human patients, limiting our ability to predict or prevent metastatic relapse.

Therefore, uncovering the mechanisms underlying the metastatic process is the most significant and urgent quest in cancer research today, and an essential prerequisite for the discovery of novel therapeutic targets.
In the research published in eLife, we characterized the changes in fibroblasts (cells of connective tissue) isolated from lungs with micro- or macro-metastases from breast cancer, compared to normal lungs. We profiled the changes in all their genes and found that metastases-associated fibroblasts “turn on” inflammatory programs that support the growth of breast cancer cells.

You may also want to read a recent article about our work in The Jerusalem Post, which describes our research in lay-person’s language.

How can this affect the metastasis process in the future?

Uncovering the mechanisms underlying the metastatic process is an essential prerequisite for the discovery of novel therapeutic targets that may prevent metastatic relapse, rather than trying to treat fully-metastatic disease.

Can you briefly describe your relationship with ICRF and how you have benefited from our support?

One of the first grants I received when I opened my lab at Tel Aviv University was an ICRF Research Career Development Award (RCDA). It helped me set up my research program and recruit PhD students.

Since then, I received another RCDA and two project grants, so it is accurate to say that the ICRF has been an essential partner in my research from day one. The PhD students that lead the papers resulting from ICRF-supported research were paid by the ICRF grants throughout their PhD program. I’m truly grateful for ICRF’s continued support!

Prof. Neta Erez is the Head of the Laboratory of Tumor Biology and Chair of the Department of Pathology in the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University. She has been involved in cancer research from the earliest stages of her research career, and has been funded continuously by ICRF since 2011.

The Erez team is studying cancer-related inflammation and the role of stromal and immune cells in supporting the metastasis of breast cancer tumor cells to the lungs. Cancer mortality is almost exclusively a result of tumor metastasis. Nevertheless, very little is currently known about the role of the metastatic microenvironment in allowing disseminated tumor cells from the primary tumor to propagate and colonize the metastatic organ. Therefore, she feels that elucidating the pathways and discovering target molecules in the metastatic stroma should be of great clinical importance.

Prof. Erez’s goal is to understand how cells in the microenvironment of tumors – in particular, fibroblasts and immune cells – facilitate the growth of metastatic tumor cells. To date, most anti-cancer therapy is applied following operative resection of the primary tumor, in order to prevent disease relapse; thus, making the microenvironment at the metastatic organ an important target for therapy. Moving forward, she hopes to discover molecular pathways that would lead to the development of novel therapies to efficiently inhibit the development of breast cancer metastases.

Prof. Erez lives in Nes-Ziona, Israel, with her husband, Dr. Robert Hoffman. She has a 14 year old son and an 11 year old daughter.

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