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Letter of Hope: Breast Cancer Research in the Welm Labs

Read Time: 2 minutes
Author: The Welm Labs

Welm Lab group standing on stairs together

Updated October 2020

Dear Patients and Families,

Our lab focuses on breast cancer and trying to understand why it sometimes spreads to other organs. This process is called metastasis, and it is the major cause of death from breast and other cancers (also called Stage IV cancer).

A big puzzle in breast cancer is why 20-30% of breast cancers eventually recur in distant organs, even when they are not detected as metastatic at diagnosis. How do these cells hide out in the body despite state-of-the-art treatment? We are trying to better identify what is special about those 20-30% of tumors, why they spread, and how to eliminate them—so we can develop more effective treatments to prevent metastatic recurrence and therapies to treat metastasis once it is diagnosed. This is especially important because once these metastatic cells become detectable, they are usually resistant to current therapies.

Alana and Bryan Welm’s labs work together to develop new models of advanced breast cancer by growing patient tumors in mouse mammary glands or in three-dimensional gels (called organoids), mimicking their natural environment. We use these models to predict whether a patient is at high risk of breast cancer metastasis, to test new drugs, and even to predict which of the FDA-approved drugs are effective against those tumors on an individualized basis. We are doing this work in strong partnership with Dr. Christos Vaklavas, the head of the breast cancer clinical program at Huntsman Cancer Institute, in the context of novel clinical trials.

Please know this as you go through your treatment journey: The dedicated technical staff, PhD students, and postdoctoral fellows in our lab continue to work hard every day (and night!) to bring new hope to breast cancer through innovative research, always with patients in mind.

Thank you,
The Welm Labs

Our doctors and researchers are sharing hope with patients and their loved ones. Read more Letters of Hope.

Cancer touches all of us.