NKI - Netherlands Cancer Institute

11/05/2020 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 11/05/2020 02:01

Hendrik Messal wins Veni grant for visualising onset of breast cancer

The Dutch Research Council has granted researcher Hendrik Messal a Veni grant. This allows him to make good use of a fancy technique he developed: 3D whole organ microscopy. He hopes to elucidate how breast cancer precursors develop into malignant tumors. 'I know this project will be pushing boundaries.'

In the Netherlands, each year 2300 women are diagnosed with the breast cancer precursor DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ), a condition of the milk ducts. The problem is: a subgroup will never actually get breast cancer, but there is as yet no way to identify them. Therefore, all women diagnosed with DCIS get treatment, side effects included. If only we could pinpoint which women really need this treatment …

That is exactly why Messal joined the multidisciplinary NKI environment as a postdoctoral fellow: to apply his 3D technique to characterize normal and DCIS-bearing milk ducts in entire breasts.

'No other institute in the world has this unique setup of 3D technology, clinical access and pathology experts in place that is needed to solve this particular question', he says.

Pathologists working at microscopic level inspect tissue samples in 2D. That is a problem, because a disease is 3D.

Messal discovered a way to tackle that: 'We make the tissue transparent so we can analyse the whole breast and its ducts in 3D. We can then distinguish normal and abnormal tissue, take it out and analyse it in various ways while knowing exactly where it was and how it related to the rest of the breast. I think that is the reason why I got the Veni grant: it will lead to unique insights into the initiation of breast cancer, because we can analyse an entire breast and know exactly how everything is connected.'

With his Veni grant he and his colleagues from the Jacco van Rheenen group will investigate why some precursors of breast cancer develop into cancer and some do not.

This group is in close collaboration with the group of pathologist Jelle Wesseling, who aims to identify subsets of DCIS patients with a very low risk of developing an invasive breast cancer through epidemiological as well as molecular pathology studies.

Veni grants are part of the 'Talent Programme' of the Dutch Research Council (NWO). Highly promising young scientists can apply for Veni grants, worth up to 250,000 euros, to further develop their own scientific idea's for three years. Find more information on the Dutch Research Council's website..

The current work in the NKI DCIS project is funded by EMBO, PRECISION, the Dutch Cancer Society and Oncode.