Centre for Cancer Biomarkers CCBIO

Targeting tumor aggressiveness in young breast cancer patients

Although CCBIO this summer completes its 10-year appointment as Center of Excellence by the Research Council of Norway, the center will continue its activities, and so do all the research groups and collaborations that have been established through these years. It has been a privilege for the CCBIO leadership to follow these groups from the very beginning and watch them grow and now continue to expand. We had a chat with one of them, the research group Breast Cancer of the Young – Bergen (BCY-B).

Collage of all group members.

Main content

The BCY-B group focuses on understanding the increased tumor aggressiveness seen among young breast cancer patients. The research group aims to understand the underlying biological differences between age groups, to identify biomarkers aiding in diagnostics as well as in selection of individualized treatment. A tailored therapy for young breast cancer patients may improve survival and quality of life and is much needed for this patient group. Identifying patients that might be spared adjuvant treatment is of high importance. Young breast cancer survivors present a long-life expectancy and experience challenges specific to their young age, such as living with side-effects from cancer therapy, and planning a family and a career. 

From a postdoctoral project to a research group

Associate Professor Elisabeth Wik established the young breast cancer project during her postdoctoral period in CCBIO. 
“The BCY-B research group is truly a real product of CCBIO,” Elisabeth acknowledges. “It was initiated and grown under the CCBIO umbrella, nourished and supported by the group’s mentor Professor Lars A. Akslen and others from the CCBIO family, including parts of the international faculty,” she explains.  

“In the early pre-group phase, I, together with medical student Amalie A. Svanøe, set out to characterize a population-based cohort of breast cancer patients below 50 years at time of diagnosis. These were patients not yet included in the Norwegian breast screening program. The research group was established in 2019 when the first PhD candidates, Anna K.M. Sæle and Lise M. Ingebriktsen, joined us. Over the years, more students joined the group, including PhD candidate Rasmus O.C. Humlevik. Medical students from the Medical Student Research Program at our university are also valuable members of the group: Amalie B. Kvamme, Ulrikke Hugaas, and Amalie F. Tegnander are in active student projects; Amalie A. Svanøe is now an alumni student of the group; and Astrid A. Syrtveit is a pre-PhD candidate. Senior Researcher Erling A. Høivik teamed up with BCY-B in late 2022, contributing with vast knowledge in tumor biology, experimental and translational study approaches, large-scale data analyses, and a truly good team spirit,” Elisabeth says. Elisabeth and Erling are today jointly co-leading the BCY-B research group. 

“Starting to work with Elisabeth and the rest of the BCY-Bergen team has been a great experience. I was warmly welcomed, and soon became integrated in the projects and the group, with support and trust from the very beginning. With slightly different backgrounds, I think we are complementing each other, optimizing collaboration and future work for the benefit of young women with breast cancer,” Erling says.

First publications

In addition to being part of CCBIO, the research group is tightly anchored to the Department of Pathology, Haukeland University Hospital, where Elisabeth Wik now is the department leader. Leveraging from initial work staging clinical data and biopsy material, work from the group has now entered a productive phase. The first paper was Lise M. Ingebriktsen et al., A novel age-related gene expression signature associated with proliferation and disease progression in breast cancer (Br J Cancer 2022). Recently, the paper Amalie A. Svanøe and Rasmus O.C. Humlevik et al., Age-related phenotypes in breast cancer: A population-based study (Int J Cancer 2024) was published. The most recent is Lise M. Ingebriktsen et al., Age-related clusters and favorable immune phenotypes in breast cancer of the young (Mod. Pathol. 2024). We are to expect more publications from the group in 2024, as Lise M. Ingebriktsen defended her PhD in late November 2023, as the first doctoral candidate from the BCY-B group. 

Future plans

The BCY-B studies are mainly tissue-based, integrating histopathologic, clinical, and molecular data, with support of large-scale (omics) data. Ongoing work includes projects focusing on age-dependent hormone receptor-related alterations, the breast cancer immune cell landscape across ages, and metastases in the young. 

“We plan for BCY-B to contribute to establishing international networks on cancer of the young – aiming for BCY-B to make a difference in research and clinical medicine, particular for the younger breast cancer patients,” Elisabeth and Erling conclude.

We look forward to the future work from the group!