Dr Niantao Deng

Garvan Institute of Medical Research

Understanding breast cancer patients’ response to neoadjuvant chemotherapy at single-cell

Chemotherapy prior to surgery is used with the intention of rendering large tumours operable in locally advanced breast cancer and has become increasingly common. Treatment responses can then be assessed in realtime, and tissue samples can be collected throughout the course of treatment. In this study, we would like to understand the mechanisms of resistance by comparing samples of responders and non-responders before and after chemotherapy at the single-cell level.

The use of neoadjuvant therapy – steps to shrink tumours – before surgery to make them operable in breast cancers is increasingly common. Dr Niantao Deng and his team at the Garvan Institute and University of New South Wales would like to expand on this work by using a novel, single-cell sequencing technology to analyse breast cancers before and after the therapy. In this way they aim to understand why some patients respond well to the treatment and some don’t.

I’d like to understand the mechanisms of patients’ responses to treatment at the individual cell level,” Niantao explains. “Because we have direct access to their samples before and after treatment, we see our findings as potentially translating into the clinic. Our ultimate goal is to find a way to overcome patients’ resistance to treatment and personalise it to ensure they have better outcomes.

With these aims in mind, too, Niantao’s current interests include using statistical methods to analyse and integrate large amounts of breast cancer data. He believes this will help him address critical questions, like how some patients respond to their disease and predicting how they will react to certain drugs.