Professor Sherene Loi’s research is attempting to better understand the breast cancer immune microenvironment, and use this knowledge to develop new treatments for patients with breast cancer.

She has been recognised with the American Association for Cancer Research’s Outstanding Investigator Award for Breast Cancer Research.

In accepting the award at the virtual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium on Thursday morning Australian time, Professor Loi says it was her great pleasure to receive it and acknowledged her lab’s contributions to the work.

In her award lecture entitled ‘Journey into breast cancer immunology using genomics’, Professor Loi spoke about how it wasn’t until the advent of whole genome microarrays that we began to understand breast cancer was not one, but three different diseases.

And each of these different disease subtypes — hormone receptor positive breast cancer, HER2-positive breast cancer and triple negative breast cancer — have different ways of developing and progressing.

What Professor Loi’s group has found is that immunity is important in breast cancer as it can influence how a disease progresses and how a patient responds to treatment, particularly in triple negative breast cancer and HER2-positive breast cancer.

One way to measure this immunity is to look at the quantity of tumour-infiltrating lymphocytes or TILs a patient has – these are white blood cells, predominantly activated T cells, which have infiltrated into the connective tissue surrounding a tumour and into the tumour itself.

The higher the patient’s level of tumour-infiltrating lymphocytes, the more robust immunity they have, which bodes well for an improved prognosis of their disease.

Professor Loi’s group are now exploring a number of ways to generate new immunity in patients.

Last week, Professor Loi was also announced as the European Society for Medical Oncology’s 2020 Breast Cancer Award recipient.

She and her fellow awardees were praised for their "will to improve cancer patients’ lives ... a worthwhile reminder that progress is possible through adversity".

“As our understanding of breast cancer and how to better treat it evolves, we’re proud to have outstanding researchers like Sherene here at Peter Mac,” says Executive Director Cancer Research Professor Ricky Johnstone.