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May 4, 2006

Krebs Lecture: On breast cancer’s beginnings

Somewhat like an investigator trying to reconstruct the scene of a crime in order to find out exactly what happened, Dr. Joan Brugge has developed a three-dimensional model to learn what happens to turn normal cells into breast cancer cells.

Brugge, chair of Harvard Medical School’s Department of Cell Biology, will talk about this work when she gives the Krebs Lecture in Molecular Pharmacology next week. She will speak on Use of 3-D Models to Study Signaling Pathways Involved in Epithelial Morphogenesis and Oncogenesis at 4:30 p.m. in room T-625 of the Health Sciences Center. The lecture, sponsored by the Department of Pharmacology, is open to everyone.

She is using a 3-D basement membrane model, something like scaffolding, to grow and manipulate mammary epithelial cells. By learning to reconstruct the steps involved as cancer cells develop, she and her colleagues hope to learn how breast cancer begins and progresses. She particularly focuses on the signaling pathways that control these cell-level events and wants to develop methods that would determine how active these pathways are in specific human tumors.

Brugge’s early work was crucial in establishing the molecular identity of oncogenes responsible for transformation of cancer cells by avian sarcoma viruses and in identifying the src tyrosine kinase and its ability to phosphorylate cellular proteins important in oncogenesis. She pursued this work further by analyzing the structure and function of the src kinase and its role in cellular proliferation and oncogenesis in a wide range of cell types, including breast cancer.

Brugge is a member of both the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine and has received numerous awards, including the National Cancer Institute’s Rosalind Franklin Award and the Charlotte Friend Award in 2005.

This will be the 19th Annual Krebs Lecture, sponsored by an endowment from Sterling Winthrop, Inc. The lectureship honors Edwin G. Krebs, UW professor emeritus of pharmacology and biochemistry who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1992 with Dr. Edmond Fischer for their discovery of protein phosphorylation as a key cellular regulatory mechanism.