Camila dos Santos, PhD Back To 2018 Winners

2018 Winners


My vision, and the ultimate goal of my research, is to define the changes that, once established in breast tissue, block cancer development. My laboratory studies various pregnancy-associated morphological and molecular changes in mammalian breast tissues using multiple murine models representing both, normal and cancer phenotypes. Once we identify the changes that effect a decrease in breast cancer risk, we hope to extrapolate and extend our studies towards preventive strategies against breast cancer in humans. My ambition, is to provide a solid and molecularly-orientated basis for breast cancer prevention, and even perhaps for prevention against cancer recurrence that often follows resolution of the primary disease.

Dr. dos Santos studies mechanisms to prevent breast cancer. One of the most consistent and definitive observations from population studies of breast cancer, going back nearly 100 years, reports that a full-term pregnancy early in a woman’s life dramatically reduces the lifetime incidence of breast cancer. Dr. dos Santos uses animal models and epigenomic analysis to study how pregnancy decreases breast cancer risk, with the goal to identify strategies to prevent breast cancer development in woman. Her group previously established that pregnancy stably changes the epigenomic landscape of mammary epithelial cells (MECs), and current unpublished work suggests that such epigenetic modifications alter the transcriptome of MECs. More recently, Dr. dos Santos group developed a mouse model in which pregnancy can prevent the development of mammary tumors, an innovative approach that will yield answers directly related to cancer prevention. Dr. dos Santos received her PhD in Molecular Biology from State University of Campinas, Brazil, and completed her Postdoctoral Fellowship with Gregory Hannon at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. For her research in normal breast development and breast cancer, she has been awarded the Rita Allen Foundation Award, a V-Foundation Award, and AACR-Breast Cancer Research Foundation Young Investigator Award.

Pregnancy-induced epigenetic reprogramming and immune modulation in breast cancer preventions

Cancer prevention represents one of the most important challenges of modern medicine. A great deal of evidence suggests that an early pregnancy prevents the development of breast cancer by over 30%. This phenomenon is present in several mammalian species and confers a long-lasting cancer protection. However, we know little about the genetic and molecular changes that make breast cells resistant to cancer. The goal of this proposal is to define mechanisms that prevent breast cancer development.

The Pershing Square Sohn Prize will open the gateway for my laboratory at CSHL to tackle high-risk and bold questions. Our goal is to define the molecular mechanisms that afford preventive benefits against breast cancer. This award will also provide the means to establish communication and collaboration with other outstanding scientists by virtue of participation in networking events. It will, therefore, undoubtedly support the development of my scientific career. I am incredibly honored to be a recipient of this prestigious award and become a part of such an extraordinary effort and community.”

My published and unpublished studies have provided novel insights into how pregnancy stably shapes both the chemical tags on our DNA (called epigenetic marks) and the complement of genes that are turned on in breast cells. Now, I propose to mechanistically investigate how these molecular changes block cancer progression and alter immune function in the breast. My lab has recently developed a new mouse model of pregnancy-induced protection; this innovative approach will be instrumental in understanding cancer prevention. My ultimate goal is to devise new strategies that mimic the effects of pregnancy to prevent breast cancer and reduce breast cancer occurrence.

“To me, innovation is the re-defining of concepts and the elucidation of mechanisms to target unsolved challenges. In my laboratory, we seek innovation using state-of-the-art technologies to explore uncharted domains and to deconstruct existing concepts with greater accuracy, in the hope of finding an executable therapeutic intervention against diseases.”