Associate Professor Wendy Ingman
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QEH - Basil Hetzel Institute
The Hospital Research Foundation Associate Professor of Breast Cancer Research
Head of the Breast Biology and Cancer Unit
A/Prof Wendy Ingman graduated from a PhD at the University of Adelaide in 2002 and conducted postdoctoral training as an NHMRC CJ Martin Fellow at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, USA, returning to Adelaide in 2005. Wendy made the transition to independent researcher in 2009 with an NHMRC New Investigator Project grant. In 2011 she was appointed an NBCF Early Career Fellow and THRF A/Prof of Breast Cancer Research, and established a laboratory at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital which is her current appointment. The Unit investigates breast biology and how disease states of the breast occur.
The Breast Biology and Cancer Unit is located at the Basil Hetzel Institute within The Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
Breast Cancer Risk and Prevention
Breast cancer places an incredible burden on Australian women. Every year, around 18,000 Australian women are diagnosed with breast cancer alone - a disease that devastates women's lives and is often fatal.
If we are to prevent and treat breast cancer, we must better understand how the disease develops. Breast density (also known as mammographic density) is the percentage of white and bright regions on a mammogram. Breast density is not related to how breasts look or feel and can only be assessed by mammogram. Forty three percent of women have "Heterogenously Dense" or "Extremely Dense" breasts, which together are termed "high breast density". High breast density is both an independent risk factor for breast cancer and masks cancers on a mammogram. Combined, these two distinct phenomena lead to increased incidence, delayed diagnosis, more aggressive tumours, and a 90% increased risk of breast cancer-associated death in women with high breast density.
There is exciting potential for breast density to become a widespread health assessment tool, used to identify the women most at risk of breast cancer in order to intervene early and reduce that risk.
Our research is the first to demonstrate a causal role for immune system signalling in breast density and the associated cancer risk. Using a unique human biobank of paired high and low density breast tissue samples, together with transgenic mouse models, we demonstrated that pro-inflammatory protein C-C Motif Chemokine Ligand 2 (CCL2) is a biological driver of both high breast density and increased risk of cancer. This study opens the door for new approaches to reduce breast cancer risk through use of anti-inflammatory drugs in women with dense breasts.
Improving Breast Cancer Treatment
Breaking immune tolerance in triple negative breast cancer: Failure of the body's immune system to attack a threat such as a mutated cell is known as immune tolerance, and is one of the key hurdles to overcome in both treating breast cancer and preventing its recurrence. Our laboratory has identified a new biological pathway active in breast cancer involving a protein called C1q, which can be targeted to break this tolerance. The aim of this project is to capitalize on this discovery to develop a new approach to breaking tolerance in triple negative cancer, a very aggressive subtype of breast cancer which is notoriously difficult to treat.
Exploring the impact of menstrual cycling on personalised medicine for premenopausal breast cancer patients: Gene expression profiling of breast cancer is a technology increasingly being adopted in the clinic as a personalised medicine approach to tailor treatment to individual patients. However, an underappreciated factor in premenopausal breast cancer diagnosis is that oestrogen and progesterone fluctuate dramatically during the menstrual cycle, and these hormones are likely to affect gene expression. This research aims to determine whether fluctuation in oestrogen and progesterone associated with different stages of the menstrual cycle significantly affects gene expression profiles in breast cancers from premenopausal women. We will examine gene expression profiles in paired biopsy and surgical breast cancer tissue samples taken from women undergoing treatment at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and investigate how menstrual cycle stage in the two samples affects breast cancer subtype.
Mastitis and Lactation Insufficiency
Lactation mastitis is an inflammatory breast disease affecting 17-27% of Australian breastfeeding women that causes pain, fever and low milk supply. The challenges posed by this disease lead many women to use supplementary formula, or cease breastfeeding altogether leaving their infants at increased risk of respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases as babies, and non-communicable diseases including heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer, allergies, asthma, mental illness and chronic lung, liver and renal diseases as both children and adults. Our recent research has suggested that macrophages play a role in development of this disease.
Our current research pursues new knowledge in how disease state develop in the breast. We explore revolutionary new concepts of how immune cells function in the breast, and how these cells affect breast disease development.