Centre for Cancer Biomarkers CCBIO
TMS starting grant

TMS Starting Grant to Carina Strell

The Trond Mohn Foundation has now announced that Carina Strell will be one of three candidates at the University of Bergen (UiB) to be awarded with a TMS starting grant, for her project Understanding Early Breast Cancer Evolution in Space and Time (EvoMaps). Strell has a long-term collaboration with the Lars A. Akslen group at CCBIO, and her project will be embedded at CCBIO.

Portrait photo.
Melanie Burford, Trond Mohn stiftelse

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The TMS starting grant is a four-year recruitment program which aims to give excellent young researchers the chance to develop to successful research leaders by providing long term funding, and aid the University of Bergen in attracting and retaining excellent young researchers in research areas where the university foresees a recruitment need within a four-year timeframe.

Strell was first through a prequalification process where 14 proposals were evaluated by experts of high international standing. Five were invited to step 2, where a new set of internationally renowned experts were appointed, and each proposal was reviewed by three independent experts. The five candidates also presented their projects to the TMS Scientific Advisory Board, who made its recommendations to the Board of Directors, narrowing the five down to three.

Studying the microenvironment of tumor cells

Since the introduction of mammography screening programs, the number of detected early breast cancers (stage 0, ductal carcinoma in situ) has increased and now represents about 10% of all breast cancer cases in Norway. Early breast cancer has an excellent prognosis, but since we do not know which women would progress to invasive disease, the majority of women with early breast cancer (in situ) receives surgery together with adjuvant radiotherapy and sometimes also endocrine therapy.  

“I would like to understand the biological mechanisms behind why some women experience recurrent and/or treatment resistant disease while others do not,” Carina explains. “The hypothesis is that breast cancer progression and therapy response are not only dependent on the tumor cells alone, but also on the surrounding tissue microenvironment. Using novel molecular tools for advanced tissue analysis, I will perform a systematic exploration of the genetic properties of tumor cells in relation to their surrounding microenvironment over the course of disease progression and the development of treatment resistance,” she says.

Identifying which patients will benefit from what treatment

The overall aim of this project is to uncover and map new mechanisms of early breast cancer evolution.

“With this knowledge, I hope to improve current diagnostic tools for breast cancer patients, to reduce the treatment burden for women with early-stage breast cancer and thus improve their quality of life and spare them treatment related comorbidities,” Carina explains. “In the long run, data from this project can contribute to identify new treatment strategies and overcome radiotherapy resistance,” she continues.

The spatial evolution workflow will be made available to researchers at the UiB studying other cancer types or diseases, where genotypic alterations impact microenvironmental phenotypes and vice versa.

State-of-the-art technology and expertise

Strell looks very much forward to be collaborating more closely with CCBIO.

“CCBIO is an excellent interdisciplinary research network and community with focus on translational biomarker research. This means that my project will strongly benefit from the expertise at CCBIO, and I look very much forward to extending the CCBIO connections I have already made through the years,” she says. “I will also get access to state-of-the-art technology such as the imaging mass cytometer (IMC) at CCBIO,” she adds.

Notably, this TMS-grant will allow Strell to establish a competitive research group in the field of early breast cancer.

“UiB, and in particular CCBIO, has a strong research arm on invasive breast cancer, which is closely connected to the pathology unit,” she says. “I am very much looking forward to complement the ongoing activities with my research focus on early breast cancer, which is increasingly diagnosed, and these women are affected by overtreatment,” Strell concludes.

“This project is very ambitious but correspondingly important,” says Lars A. Akslen, Director of CCBIO and collaborator through several years. “The need for precise biomarkers in the field of early breast cancer is urgent, and the combination of key questions and cutting-edge methodology is very exciting. I can think of no better person than Carina to lead these efforts at CCBIO. We are all thankful to TMS for this grant – and we are happy to welcome Carina Strell to our research environment,” Akslen concludes.

See also UiB article presenting the three TMS starting grant recipients.