Dr. LaBarge's team specializes in developing human cell systems for understanding why aging is a major risk factor for breast cancer. The objectives of his research program are to generate a comprehensive understanding of the micro-environmental and tissue-level changes in breast that arise with age, and then develop a functional understanding of how those changes: alter mammary gland homeostasis, contribute to breast tumor genesis, and modulate activity of therapeutics.
A cornerstone of their approach involves the use of a growing collection of primary human mammary epithelial cell (HMEC) strains, dubbed the HMEC Aging Resource, that were derived from reduction mammoplasty, mastectomy, and peripheral tumor dissections. They explore the functional impact of aging on various lineages of HMEC, at different stages of cancer progression, by probing them with combinatorial bioengineered culture substrata and measuring outcomes quantitatively with imaging and molecular analyses. In doing so, they continue to derive a catalog of micro-environmental, epigenetic, genetic, cellular, and tissue-level changes that occur normally with age, and are trying to determine mechanistically which of those changes increase the vulnerability of older women to breast cancer. Put differently, they are deriving a growing list of potential therapeutic targets and biomarkers of breast aging and breast cancer susceptibility.
Dr. LaBarge says his dream is to identify primary breast cancer prevention modalities that are so safe, they become common place.