Understanding and Exploiting Estrogen Signaling in Breast Cancer Tumor Associated Macrophages

Dr. Lev Becker’s lab studies Tumor Associated Macrophages (TAMS), the most abundant cell type in the tumor microenvironment. Generally, macrophages are responsible for finding and destroying bacteria in cells, but in many cases, tumor associated macrophages work to suppress the immune system around a tumor, accelerating breast cancer growth. TAMs express a functional estrogen receptor, which when stimulated by estradiol induces pro-tumorigenic gene expression and enhances tumor growth.

Dr. Becker points out that while estrogen signaling in cancer cells has been well studied and has led to the development of therapies that have improved breast cancer patient outcomes, the effects of estrogen and endocrine therapies on other cells in the tumor microenvironment have been largely ignored. Additionally, patients can respond to estrogen therapies even when they do not have estrogen receptor positive breast cancer. Dr. Becker suggests that this effect may be the interaction between estrogen therapies and the TAMs in the tumor microenvironment. Therefore, the goal of the research Dr. Becker will pursue with his Fletcher Scholars Award is to better understand and delineate the importance that estrogen signaling in tumor associated macrophages plays in the progression of breast cancer. The hope is to use his findings to better optimize estrogen related therapies in breast cancer.

Learn more about Dr. Becker’s work and laboratory here: