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Dr Julia M.W. Gee  -  PhD


Career Profile

I received a BSc (Hons) in 1985 in Physiological Sciences from the University of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and was awarded the University’s Physiology prize for that year. I then undertook a Medical Research Council-funded PhD studentship at the University of Wales College of Medicine in the then Tenovus Institute (breast cancer laboratory, PhD awarded 1991). I held 3 consecutive postdoctoral positions in the Tenovus Institute between 1991-2000 (including one with Dept. Surgery, University of Wales College of Medicine), becoming a Senior Researcher in 1995. Between 2000-April 2007, I took up the position of Senior Research Associate & Research Co-ordinator for the Tenovus Centre for Cancer Research within the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, where the programme of work focussed around anti‑hormone resistance and progression in breast cancer. Alongside contributing to the management of (and defining research strategies for) the Tenovus group, my role was to oversee the Clinical Immunocytochemistry Team, extending to analysing signalling elements using activation-specific antibodies in several phase II breast cancer trials. I also lead the group’s Gene Discovery Team applying microarrays and bioinformatics to reveal new signalling in resistant breast cancer, and receiving a gold medal in this area at the 9th World Congress on Advances in Oncology/7th International Symposium on Molecular Medicine. I was subsequently funded until Sept. 2010 as Principal Investigator on a Tenovus Charity programme grant investigating and targeting anti‑hormone-induced signalling during the drug responsive phase of ER+ breast cancer.

Most recently, I successfully secured a prestigious 5-year Breast Cancer Campaign-funded Senior Scientific Fellowship (2010-2015), based in the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, to examine the impact of prolonged antihormone exposure on the acquired resistant phenotype in ER+ disease to define targets potentially relevant following adjuvant antihormone relapse in the clinic. Alongside defining research strategies for further funding bids, my current role extends to formulating new hypotheses and contributing to management and implementing projects, development and strategic planning for our research group. I am also responsible for securing supportive external grant funding and for sustaining various existing (and securing new) collaborations with key academic groups and pharmaceutical companies. I am principal investigator/co-applicant on several industrial-funded studies exploring new therapeutic agents within breast cancer models.

 

Research interests

My research interests have principally been directed towards gaining a fuller appreciation of breast cancer biology, mechanisms of failure of anti‑hormonal agents and the associated gain of poorer prognosis. In my PhD, I used electron microscopy and immunocytochemistry to examine the impact of anti‑oestrogens on the normal breast. The studentship included optimising novel immunocytochemical procedures to monitor oestrogen receptor in breast cancer, a protein now routinely measured in the clinic. My subsequent postdoctoral positions focussed around monitoring signal transduction deregulation in clinical DCIS, and then in my position as Senior Research Associate for the Tenovus Centre for Cancer Research within invasive breast cancer, determining growth factor signal transduction underlying resistance to anti‑hormones and anti-growth factors in experimental models and clinical disease. The aim of these latter studies was not only to reveal novel drug failure biomarkers, but also new therapeutic targets including providing landmark data demonstrating the success of anti-EGFR therapy alongside anti‑hormones in ER+ breast cancer in vitro. 

More recently, I have been interested in deciphering and evaluating targeting of oncogenic signalling induced by anti-hormones during the drug responsive phase of ER+ breast cancer that may limit maximal initial growth-inhibitory response. This novel research area, pioneered by our group, stemmed from our studies demonstrating compensatory induction of erbB signalling by antihormones and landmark data demonstrating the value of co-targeting induced EGFR alongside such agents in ER+ breast cancer. Our in vitro findings using multiple breast cancer models indicate the immense potential for targeting of compensatory signalling such as EGFR, HER2 and Src irrespective of genetic background, potentially further influenced by paracrine environment. Through such studies the aim is to reveal new signalling targets for pharmacological inhibitors that can be used in “intelligent” treatment combination strategies with anti-hormones to improve initial response and delay/prevent resistance. My Fellowship will now consider the ability of extended antihormonal exposure to radically re-programme ER+ breast cancer and will encompass in vitro and clinical breast cancer studies. As part of the Fellowship, I will also undertake training with Dr. Graham Ball, Reader in Bioinformatics at Nottingham Trent University. The Fellowship will deepen my resistance knowledge, enhance my bioinformatics skills, allow me to further flourish as an independent researcher in breast cancer and consolidate my team’s reputation at the forefront of translational research in breast cancer.

Advisory Board/Committee Membership

  • Postdoctoral representative on School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences Research Committee from 2010
  • Founder Member of School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences Postdoctoral Researchers College
  • Active member of Wales Cancer Institute Breast Group, Cardiff CRUK-ECMC group, & Sartre Cardiff/Bristol Cancer group
  • Current member (& named co-applicant) of ABC breast cancer trial (TRICC tamoxifen relapse) study group
  • British Breast Group elected member, and recently-elected Scientific Programme Committee member from 2010
  • Invited Member of Tissue Bank Access Committee for Breast Cancer Campaign Charity from 2010
  • British Breast Cancer Research Conference Scientific Board member, Nottingham UK, from January 2010
  • Breast Cancer Campaign Scientific Meeting Organising Committee member since 2006. Also Committee Member for (and co-author of resulting document for) National Gap Analysis in breast cancer instigated by Breast Cancer Campaign. This highlighted priority areas for breast cancer scientific research in the UK. Thompson A, Brennan K, Cox A, Gee J, Harcourt D, Harris A, Harvie M, Holen I, Howell A, Nicholson R, Steel M, Streuli C. Evaluation of the current knowledge limitations in breast cancer research: a gap analysis. Breast Cancer Res. 2008;10(2):R26.
  • Organising Committee member Tenovus/AstraZeneca Workshops on Cancer (1st, 2005; 2nd, 2006; 3rd, Workshop "Therapeutic Resistance to anti-hormonal drugs in breast cancer: new molecular aspects and targets" May 2008, Cardiff). Proceedings from these Workshops were published as supplements in the journal Endocrine Related Cancer and in the Springer book publication (2009) “Therapeutic resistance to anti-hormonal drugs in breast cancer: new molecular aspects and their potential as targets”.
  • Previous Scientific Advisory Board member for Breast Cancer Campaign (2004-2007)
  • Previous member of Oncopool (“Pooling of European Data to Harmonise Translational Research in Breast Cancer”) European Breast Cancer Study Group (2002-2004)
  • NEQAS Immunocytochemistry Co-ordinator for Tenovus Centre for Cancer Research (2001-2008)
  • Previously served on AstraZeneca Pathology Review & Molecular Targets in Breast Cancer Advisory Panels (2001; April 2008)

 

Scientific & Professional Service

  • Invited member of Editorial Board for Journal of Hormone Molecular Biology and Clinical Investigation 2010
  • Invited member of Editorial Board for BMC Cancer Journal 2010
  • Invited member of Editorial Board for Endocrinology Journal 2009-2012
  • Co-editor for 1st-3rd Tenovus/AstraZeneca Workshops (2005, 2006, 2008).
  • I served as an invited Reporter for Breast Cancer Research Online 2003-2006.
  • Regular referee & peer reviewer for scientific journals including JNCI, Nature journals, Breast Cancer Research, Endocrinology, & for funding bodies including
    CR-UK (TRICC), MRC, Yorkshire Cancer Research; Irish Cancer Fund; Breast Cancer Campaign; Weston Park Hospital Sheffield

 

Relationship with Practitioners

Alongside contributing to mentoring of several Cardiff and Nottingham-based MD studentships, I have managed research assays for immunocytochemical markers in the Tenovus Centre for Cancer Research, notably monitoring steroid receptors and growth factor receptor signalling pathway elements in several clinical trials in breast cancer (collaborating substantially with Prof. John Robertson at Dept. Surgery, Nottingham City Hospital). These have included studies with (i) the anti‑hormone Faslodex (Fulvestrant) in breast cancer (e.g. Study 41; NEWEST trial) and (ii) Gefitinib in Tamoxifen resistant breast cancer and also DCIS. My team was a key player in the Phase II clinical biomarker studies that provided primary evidence for FDA/EU approval of Faslodex in advanced breast cancer. Currently we are contributing to biomarker analysis in the multicentre ABC tamoxifen relapse breast cancer study and have strong local collaborations with breast cancer oncologist Prof. Peter Barrett-Lee at Velindre Hospital.

 

Membership of Learned Societies

British Breast Group elected member.

Invited National/International talks 

~30 since 2001, including:

  •  “Anti-Hormone induced compensatory signalling in breast cancer: an adverse event in the development of endocrine resistance”, 1st International Symposium of Journal of Hormone Molecular Biology and Clinical investigation, Seefeld, Austria, Sept 2010. 
  • “Exploiting the dark side of anti-hormonal action in breast cancer”, British Pharmaceutical Society Conference (Cancer Medicine Session), Manchester, Sept 2008.
  • “Expression profiling reveals complexity of kinases induced in anti-hormone resistance & an emerging role for gene silencing” 3rd Tenovus/AstraZeneca International Workshop – Cardiff, UK. May 2008.
  • “The dark side of anti-hormones in breast cancer”, Dept. Surgery and Molecular Oncology, Ninewells Hospital and Medical School, Dundee University, June 2007 (& Academic Unit of Clinical Oncology, University of Sheffield, October 2007).
  • “Key Genes in Hormone-Sensitive Human Epithelial Tumours”. PAI meeting. Brussels, Belgium, February 2006.
  • “Array profiling of survival and resistance genes in anti‑hormone treated breast cancer cells”. 9th World Congress on Advances in Oncology/7th International Symposium on Molecular Medicine, Crete, October 2004.
  • “Alterations in growth factor signalling pathways and resistance to anti-hormonal therapy”. US Department of Defence ERA of Hope Breast Cancer Research meeting, Orlando, USA, September 2002.
  • “The EGFR selective tyrosine kinase inhibitor ZD1839 (Iressa) is an effective inhibitor of tamoxifen resistant breast cancer growth”. ECCO 11. Lisbon, Portugal, October 2001.

 

Public engagement since 2008: 

  • Interaction with Breast Cancer Campaign and “In The Pink” charities & fundraisers.
  • Presenting Breast Cancer Researcher (Biomarkers) at CR-UK Centre Cardiff public launch October 2009
  • Contributor to Breast Cancer Campaign "History of Breast Cancer" public document 2010