Institute of Genetics and Cancer

Shining a Light on Breast Cancer

During Breast Cancer Awareness Month we look back at our public Shining a Light event: October 2023

Dr Olga Oikonomidou speaking at Shining a Light on Breast Cancer
Dr Olga Oikonomidou

One in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, with one diagnosis being made every 2.5 minutes in Europe.

Back in March, Institute of Genetics and Cancer researchers welcomed our local community to join us for an event in our ’Shining a Light on’ series to hear the latest research updates and a personal perspective from someone living with breast cancer.

Dr Olga Oikonomidou, Principal Investigator and Breast Cancer Translational Research Group Leader at Edinburgh Cancer Research and Academic Consultant Medical Oncologist, introduced breast cancer biology and biomedical research.

An update on the work of the Olga Oikonomidou Research Group was then given by Senior Post Doctoral Fellow Dr Fiona Semple, with particular focus on projects which aim to enhance our understanding of the biological evolution of the highly aggressive Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC) - from early stages to metastatic - and the molecular changes that occur in response to treatments which result in varying patient responses and prognosis.

Their research group aims to better understand the biology of breast cancer and the mechanisms behind response and resistance to drugs. They work to identify biomarkers of response to treatment and to translate their knowledge and findings from the laboratory bench to the bedside of the patient.


Breast cancer is not one disease, it is a disease with multiple faces. We have many breast cancer subtypes, and we need to identify all of their features in order to define what would be the best management for each of these breast cancer subtypes.

Dr Olga OikonomidouPrincipal Investigator and Breast Cancer Translational Research Group Leader



Susie Melville speaking at Shining a Light on Breast Cancer
Susie Melville

As an international and national Chief Investigator and Principal Investigator, Dr Oikonomidou leads on clinical trials that provide access to some of the newest, most innovative cancer treatments which are only available through such studies, offering patients additional treatment options outside the standard of practice.

Dr Oikonomidou also leads on the NEO study, supported by NHS Lothian, a trial which is looking at predicting how well chemotherapy prior to surgery will work for breast cancer. If it was clearer earlier whether chemotherapy was working or not, some women would be able to avoid having treatment that doesn’t benefit them.

The team are developing non-invasive analyses of breast cancer to identify potential therapeutic targets through liquid biopsy, which may allow the detection of tumour-related genetic alterations that are relevant to cancer development and progression. The project involves identifying biomarker response to CDK4/6 inhibitors, drugs which are considered the biggest development in the field of hormone sensitive advanced breast cancer.

The event came to a poignant close with attendees hearing from Susie Melville about her personal breast cancer journey with reflection upon the onset of symptoms, diagnosis, treatments and hopes for the future.


I imagine that we, as patients, have all had different treatment plans and individual experiences of the highs and the lows that this disease brings. But I imagine that what we all share is courage and hope, and obviously a huge collective gratitude to Olga, the expertise, hard work and commitment that she and her group give to the very important breast cancer research here in Edinburgh. It was interesting, exciting and heartening to hear from Olga and Fiona about the knowledge and insights that have been gained from their group's areas of research. I'd also like to thank all the funders who have made all of this fantastic research possible for myself and so many other patients living with breast cancer.

Susie Melville
Video: Shining a Light on Breast Cancer 2023
Dr Olga Oikonomidou - Breast Cancer Translational Research Group

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