Breast Cancer Tumor Microenvironment - Stand Up To Cancer

Convergence Teams

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SU2C–Breast Cancer Research Foundation Breast Cancer Convergence Research Team:
Ecology of the Tumor Microenvironment in Breast Cancer

Grant Term: June 2015–December 2019

The goal of the SU2C–Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) Breast Cancer Convergence Research Team is to study the different cell populations surrounding human breast tumors to understand their interactions as an ecosystem (also called the tumor microenvironment). The project is highly multidisciplinary, with participation from experts in breast cancer, immunology, genomics, bioinformatics, mathematical modeling, ecology, and drug delivery. Together, they hope to use the knowledge they gain to develop novel treatments to destabilize this ecosystem, potentially making it possible to more effectively treat the cancer.

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Tumors consist not only of cancer cells but also stromal (connective tissue) and immune cells that constitute the tumor microenvironment. Researchers have only recently begun to appreciate the clinical impact of this microenvironment.

In many cancer types, including breast cancer, tumors with a higher proportion of connective tissue are associated with worse clinical outcomes. In contrast, tumors infiltrated by a type of white blood cell that kills cancer (called CD8 T cells) have better clinical outcomes. Therefore, tumors behave differently based on the collective behavior of the microenvironment.

This SU2C–BCRF Breast Cancer Convergence Research Team hypothesizes that the microenvironment is an important determinant of the effectiveness of cancer immunotherapy treatments. The study brings together expertise in histology, image analysis, cell culturing, bioinformatics, ecology modeling, and nanotechnology to create a three-dimensional model of the tumor microenvironment that incorporates different cell types and genomic information. This will provide insights into the development of new therapeutic and imaging applications.

Researchers are comparing the breast cancer tumor microenvironment with that of normal breast tissue. The goal is to capture the basic way different cell types affect each other and use that knowledge to develop new models with which to test potential therapies.


The top scientists and researchers on the SU2C–BCRF Breast Cancer Convergence Research Team come from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines, which leads them to great insights upon collaboration. Learn more about the SU2C–BCRF Breast Cancer Convergence Research Team.

Convergence Team Members

Peter P. Lee, MD
City of Hope Cancer Center

Darrell J. Irvine, PhD
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Herbert Levine, PhD
Rice University

Gurinder S. “Mickey” Sing-Atwal, PhD
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Clare C. Yu, PhD
University of California, Irvine

Alice Lustig
Stand Up To Cancer
Project Manager


Stand Up To Cancer’s research projects are designed to foster collaborative, swift translational research. The hallmarks of these efforts include rigorous application and selection procedures, sufficient funding to allow scientists to focus on the objectives of the grant, and six-monthly reviews by senior scientists. These reviews help the investigators capitalize on the latest findings, address potential roadblocks, and collaboratively evolve as the science requires. Please click on the link to see summaries of research results so far for the SU2C–BCRF Breast Cancer Convergence Research Team.



Human Breast Tumor-Infiltrating CD8+ T Cells Retain Polyfunctionality Despite PD-1 Expression
Egelston CA, Avalos C, Tu TY, et al (2018)
Nature Communications 9(1):4297.
Sentinel Lymph Node B Cells Can Predict Disease-Free Survival in Breast Cancer Patients
Blenman KRM, He TF, Frankel PH, et al (2018)
NPJ Breast Cancer 4:28.
IL6 Signaling in Peripheral Blood T Cells Predicts Clinical Outcome in Breast Cancer
Wang L, Miyahira AK, Simons DL, et al (2017)
Cancer Research 77(5):1119-1126.
Identification of Shared TCR Sequences from T Cells in Human Breast Cancer Using Emulsion RT-PCR
Munson DJ, Egelston CA, Chiotti KE, et al (2016)
PNAS Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the USA 113(29):8272-7.
Human Brain Metastatic Stroma Attracts Breast Cancer Cells Via Chemokines CXCL16 and CXCL12
Chung B, Esmaeli AA, Gopalakrishna-Pillai S, et al. (2017)
npj Breast Cancer 3(6).
Bistability of the Cytokine-Immune Cell Network in a Cancer Microenvironment
Li X, Levine H (2017).
Convergent Science Physical Oncology 3 (2): 024002.
On the Mechanism of Long-Range Orientational Order of Fibroblasts
Li X, Balagam R, He T-F, et al. (2017)
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 114 (34): 8974-8979.
Axonal Transport: A Constrained System
Yu CC, Reddy BJB, Wortman JC, et al. (2017)
Journal of Neurology & Neuromedicine, 2(3):20-24.
Non-randomness of the Anatomical Distribution of Tumors
Yu C, Mitchell JK (2017)
Cancer Convergence 1(1):4.
Single-Cell Sequencing Reveals αβ Chain Pairing Shapes the T Cell Repertoire
Grigaityte K, Carter JA, Goldfless SJ, et al. (2017)
bioRxiv 213462.
Delivering Safer Immunotherapies for Cancer
Milling L, Zhang Y, Irvine DJ (2017)
Advanced Drug Delivery Reviews 114:79-101.
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