Referred to as a malignant caricature of normal mammary development, breast cancer evolves through dysregulation of normal tissue homeostasis. Indeed, many factors that are critical to the development of the nascent mammary gland, such as estrogen and HER2 receptors, have been implicated in breast cancer and have provided targets for drug design. There is considerable similarity in gene expression signatures between breast cancer subtypes and the different stages—or lineages—of mammary epithelial cell development, suggesting that breast cancer subtypes are closely coupled to their developmental cell of origin.
Importantly, each breast cancer subtype displays phenotypic differences and is predictive of patient prognosis. One focus of the Keri lab is to determine the hierarchy of factors that are critical to sustain and/or give rise to each mammary epithelial cell lineage and to understand how each factor impacts the acquisition of the varying cellular properties unique to each breast cancer subtype. Understanding the developmental origins and range of phenotypes unique to each breast cancer subtype will aid in identification of new targets for therapeutic drug design.