Veerle Daniels, PhD

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

Despite recent advances in treatment options, breast cancer remains the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women. Triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) is a subgroup of breast cancer that is characterized by the absence of the estrogen receptor, the progesterone receptor and HER2-amplification. Because of the lack of these markers, there are at present -unlike for other subgroups of breast cancer- no targeted therapies available for TNBC. Therefore, TNBC is currently treated with conventional chemotherapy in addition to radiotherapy and surgery. Despite the often-good initial response to chemotherapy, therapy resistance is frequent in TNBC, making it one of the most severe subtypes of breast cancer.

To improve the perspectives of TNBC patients, there is need for better and more targeted treatments. To address this need, Dr. Daniels aims to identify metabolic pathways that can be targeted in combination with conventional chemotherapy to increase the sensitivity of TNBC to these agents.

Dr. Daniels focusses on metabolism, because the metabolic requirements of cancer cells are different than those of normal cells. Therefore, by targeting metabolism cancer cells can be weakened specifically, without affecting normal cells. To determine which metabolic features to target in cancer cells, Dr. Daniels is using a technique called “BH3-profiling”. BH3-profiling was developed by the Letai laboratory to measure the proximity of the cells to dying. This novel approach allows for the identification of metabolic perturbations that push the cancer cells closer to the point of dying, even if these perturbations do not cause cell death on their own. Using a drug to induce metabolic instability in cancer cells will make them more sensitive to chemotherapy, leading to a more effective eradiation of the cancer. The data generated in this project will lead to the development of better treatment regiments with a higher therapy efficacy and better clinical response. Additionally, information generated in this project can lead to the development of a targeted therapy for triple negative breast cancer.

Dr. Veerle Daniels did her undergraduate studies at the department of Pharmaceutical Sciences of the KULeuven University in Belgium. In 2009, she transitioned to the department of Oncology of the KULeuven to do her Ph.D. training under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Johan Swinnen. During her Ph.D. she investigated the role of lipid metabolism in tumor development and cancer cell resistance towards chemotherapy. In 2015 she moved to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to start her post-doctoral training in the laboratory of Dr. Anthony Letai, M.D. PhD.