Obesity is becoming a global epidemic and is one of the important risk factors associated with breast cancer in postmenopausal women. However, regardless of menopausal status, obese women that are diagnosed with breast cancer develop larger, more aggressive tumors, with an increased incidence of metastases. Since breast tissue is a reservoir of subcutaneous adipose tissue, elucidating the changes in adipose tissue under conditions of obesity is critical for prevention and treatment of obesity-associated cancer.
In order to understand how obesity alters the microenvironment of the breast, we utilize high fat diet and transgenic mouse models of obesity, a novel human xenograft model to observe tumor development, and complementary in vitro cell culture models. Our lab has three main focus areas: understanding how adipokines secreted by obese adipocytes act in the microenvironment of the breast, elucidating the role of inflammation induced by obesity in breast tumor progression and metastasis, and investigating how obesity alters breast epithelial cell populations leading to changes in breast cancer risk.