Associate Professor Wendy Ingman
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QEH - Basil Hetzel Institute
THRF A/Prof of Breast Cancer Research/National Breast Cancer Foundation Early Career Fellow
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, and at the Medical School on Frome Rd at the main University campus.
Breast cancer places an incredible burden on Australian women. Every year, around 14,000 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. Recent research has revealed an exciting new piece of the puzzle: breast cancer may be influenced by immune system cells called macrophages. Akin to the body's housekeepers, macrophages clean up old cellular debris. They also act as bodyguards by sensing invading pathogens and cancer cells - keeping the body safe from disease. Studies in our laboratory and others have demonstrated that macrophages are essential for healthy development of the mammary gland during puberty, menstrual cycling, pregnancy, and lactation. And our recent research suggests that macrophage functions may be associated with a number of well-established breast cancer risk factors. Despite these early clues, little is understood of how macrophages function in breast tissue, how they are regulated, or how they impact on disease states.
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. In order to gain a comprehensive and thorough understanding, we are researching the issue from four different angles:
1. Menstruation: Each time a woman menstruates, her breast cancer risk increases. What role do macrophages play in this increased risk?
2. Breast density: Women with higher breast density are more likely to develop breast cancer. What role do macrophages play in high mammographic density?
3. Pregnancy: A first full-term pregnancy before the age of 20 halves a woman's lifetime risk of breast cancer. But why? How are macrophages involved in this protective process?
4. Breastfeeding: It has been assumed that lactation mastitis is caused by bacteria, but new research points to inflammation instead. How do macrophages contribute to this inflammation?