Where Ideas Grow

Triple-negative breast cancer research distinguished with a L’Oréal Medal

Can simulating small tumors in the laboratory help treat triple-negative breast cancer? This was the question posed in Sandra Tavares’ scientific project and which earned her one of the four L’Oréal Portugal Medals of Honor for Women in Science in this year’s edition. The researcher will receive 15 thousand euros to develop more effective and less toxic therapies.
Triple-Negative Breast Cancer affects 13 out of every 100,000 women worldwide each year and accounts for 15% of invasive breast cancers. Triple negative means that none of the molecules for which treatment exists are present in these tumor cells. Despite being considered a rare type of breast cancer, the level of aggressiveness and rapid metastasis are worrisome because the therapeutic options do not work and a large majority of patients do not survive the worsening of the disease. Sandra Tavares’ research project aims to study these cells in organoids created from patient tumors and to understand the molecular mechanisms that are present and that make them so aggressive.

Sandra Tavares, from the Cytoskeletal Regulation & Cancer group, explains In this work “we aim to identify proteins that potentiate the invasion of other organs and metastases. To this end, we will use an innovative combination of screenings that will allow us to assess gene expression levels and protein levels in three-dimensional structures (organoids) that behave like small tumors, and that can be manipulated in the laboratory”.

The researcher hopes to “contribute to the design of new, targeted and personalized therapies that will substantially improve the treatment of triple negative breast cancer and, at the same time, minimize toxicity and side effects in patients”.

The other researchers awarded with a L'Oréal Portugal Medal of Honor for Women in Science were: Carina Soares-Cunha, Institute for Research in Life and Health Sciences at the University of Minho; Sara Carvalhal, Algarve Biomedical Center and Edna Correia, Center for Environmental and Sea Studies at the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon.
The researchers are PhD students or post-docs in their areas of specialization, and are between 32 and 35 years old, were selected from more than 72 candidates by a scientific jury, chaired by Alexandre Quintanilha. Each winner receives a prize worth 15 thousand euros, as an incentive for their research and work in the areas of health and environment. An initiative that aims, more broadly, to contribute to a more inclusive and equitable science and society.

The partnership that gave rise to L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science was created in 1998, between L’Oréal and UNESCO, and inspired several regional initiatives in some of the countries where the company is present. Portugal followed suit in 2004 with the L’Oréal Portugal Medals of Honor for Women in Science, a joint initiative between L’Oréal Portugal, the UNESCO National Commission and the Foundation for Science and Technology.

Since 2014, 61 young researchers have been recognized in Portugal, namely eight researchers from i3S: Sandra Sousa (2005), Maria José Oliveira (2009), Joana Marques (2010), Inês Gonçalves (2014),  Joana Tavares (2014), Sónia Melo (2015), Maria Inês Almeida (2017) e Joana Caldeira (2019).