Dr. Alison Allan BCSC Funded Researcher

Dr. Alison Allan: “Time is the biggest challenge in breast cancer research”


Dr Alison AllenDr. Alison Allan’s research lab is on the 4th floor of the London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC). The lab is a realm of true science where Dr. Allan investigates the process of metastasis, which occurs when cancer cells spread from the primary tumor to other parts of the body. Breast cancer is a special focus of Dr. Allan’s research program.

But when she goes down two floors, there is a cancer care facility full of patients who are undergoing cancer treatment. These are real patients in real clinical areas, and Dr. Allan finds the setting of her workplace inspiring, where cancer research and clinical care take place together.

“When I came to LHSC to do my post-doc, I began to work with Dr. Ann Chambers, who is an international expert in metastasis and breast cancer specifically. Our Translational Breast Cancer Research Unit, which was founded in partnership with the Breast Cancer Society of Canada, provides an environment where researchers can interact with physicians and patients. I have exposure to patients every day. That is what motivated me to stay in breast cancer research and still motivates me every day,” says Dr. Allan.

Although the survival rate of breast cancer is improving, the disease is still the leading cause of cancer death among women worldwide. Dr. Allan explains that metastasis is the most critical part of cancer because most patients do not die of their primary tumor. They usually die of metastatic disease.

“Unfortunately, even if breast cancer has been diagnosed in the early stage and the patient has successfully undergone surgery and other treatments, the cancer cells may escape from the primary tumor and move into the bloodstream. They can circulate throughout the body and invade distant organs like the lungs, the liver, the bones and others. This is what kills 80% of cancer patients.”

The lung is one of the organs to which breast cancer, especially the most aggressive types like triple-negative and HER2-positive, tends to spread. Why does this happen? Based on Dr. Allan’s team findings, some aggressive breast cancer cells express a protein called CD44 on their cell surface. These cells are particularly prone to travel through the bloodstream, reach the lung, interact with lung-specific proteins and grow in the lung, forming new tumors.

CD44+ breast cancer cells and those specific proteins produced by the lung itself work together like hooks that cling to each other. What if you break their interaction? “We suggest that in this case we can reduce metastatic activity. In our lab, we have already identified five specific lung-derived proteins that interact directly with CD44+ breast cancer cells. We have studied the ways to disrupt their interactions and identified a set of targets that likely can block those five specific lung proteins. This approach, I believe, will help us develop new therapies for treating lung metastasis of breast cancer,” says Dr. Allan.

Recently, Dr. Allan and her team have received funding to start the pre-clinical drug development process. “We are working with Dr. Raimar Löbenberg at the Drug Development and Innovation Centre at the University of Alberta. He is a pharmacist with experience in producing inhalable drugs like those used to treat asthma and other respiratory diseases. He will be packaging the targets that we identified into this form, and then we will be testing how the inhaled drug delivery approach works. If it does work, this could lead to an effective and easy-to-use drug for reducing breast cancer metastasis in the future.”

How long will it take to finally obtain a working medication? “If everything goes perfectly, 8-10 years. It’s still long time. We are looking at how to treat the metastasis successfully, but also assessing the preventative capacity of our targets. We have very specific targets and deliver them specifically to the lung. I hope that it will result in more effectiveness and much less toxicity. The lower the toxicity, the more hope to use our future drug to prevent breast cancer metastasis in the lung, not only to treat it.”

Another direction of Dr. Allan’s research is developing blood-based biomarkers that will help in the early detection of metastasis and the assessment of how anti-cancer treatments work in patients with metastatic disease. “It looks like a regular blood test. Just 10 ml of blood. We are looking at viable tumor cells that are floating in the bloodstream. This is a version of the liquid biopsy technology, which has showed impressive results recently. Yet, we can analyze the whole cancer cells while the traditional liquid biopsy is looking for pieces of DNA from tumor cells. We have more prognostic and predictive options because we can recover the cancer cells and study them in the lab to figure whether they are more aggressive or whether they have changed their characteristics. It tells us a bit more about the disease in real time.”

“Time is the biggest challenge in breast cancer research,” argues Dr. Allan. “Every morning, I walk in the LHSC building and see cancer patients. Sometimes I see women my age with kids, and I feel how long things take in science. I feel urgency. I want things to go faster so that our work will be able to benefit more patients.”

Translational research – with its focus on the rapid movement of findings from the lab to patients – is a good option to accelerate progress, Dr. Allan believes. “This approach is widely known as ‘from bench to bedside’, but here in London we also like to think about the ‘bedside to bench’ direction. We talk a lot with clinical colleagues and listen to the problems they see in clinics with their patients. We then take their concerns and ideas back to the lab and see what we can do. It is a circular process rather than a directional one. It is a dialogue.”

Dr. Allan welcomes grad students in her research program. “We are training the next generation of breast cancer researchers in the framework of having the patients in the centre of the research. We may not be able to cure metastatic breast cancer, but we can make it a chronic disease. We can give patients a long, healthy, and productive life. Instead of dying young of breast cancer, patients will live a long and happy life surrounded by their children and grandchildren. Why not? I think this is a very realistic goal.”

Support researchers like Dr. Alison Allan and others by considering a donation to the Breast Cancer Society of Canada. Find out how you can help fund life-saving research, visit bcsc.ca/donate


Dr. Alison Allan’s story was transcribed from interviews conducted by BCSC volunteer
Natalia Mukhina – Health journalist, reporter and cancer research advocate

Natalia Mukhina - Health JournalistNatalia Mukhina, MA in Health Studies, is a health journalist, reporter and cancer research advocate with a special focus on breast cancer. She is blogging on the up-to-date diagnostic and treatment opportunities, pharmaceutical developments, clinical trials, research methods, and medical advancements in breast cancer. Natalia participated in numerous breast cancer conferences including 18th Patient Advocate Program at 38th San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. She is a member of The Association of Health Care Journalists.

How to

Support an Event

Make a contribution to a fundraiser being held in support of Breast Cancer Canada. You can search for the organization or person you wish to support; or click on the event name to make a general donation to the Raise More initiative of your choice.

How to


Thinking about becoming a corporate partner of Breast Cancer Canada? Amazing. We work with all types of organizations. We’ll help you deliver results which are measurable. National or local.

A partnership with Breast Cancer Canada is a win-win. It improves employee engagement, boosts morale, fosters a tighter culture. It raises your organization’s profile and demonstrates your support for breast cancer research. To customers. To employees. To suppliers. Most of all – it makes a positive impact for those affected directly by breast cancer.

We’ll raise money for life-saving breast cancer research, together.

Let’s talk about building your program!

Contact Charlene Politano today to get started.
Email: cpolitano@breastcancerprogress.ca
Phone: 1-800-567-8767 or 416-352-8567

To make an online corporate donation, please click here.

If you would like to explore other ways to give, we invite you to learn more.

How to


Join the Raise More Challenge

The more money we raise, the sooner we can end breast cancer. The more time researchers have in the lab. The more technology they can use. The more support we can get. Advancements in early detection and personalized treatment are in reach, and with your help to raise funds, we can find a cure sooner.

There are many ways to fundraise – whether you want to create a competition or tournament, fundraise with your team, challenge your colleagues, host a pink party, have a bake sale or cook-off, the idea is to raise more for breast cancer research.

Breast Cancer Canada will empower you with all the tools you need for a successful fundraiser, and if you need more information, contact Dawn Hamilton at: dhamilton@breastcancerprogress.ca  

I am a

Corporate Donor

Support life-saving breast cancer research. A corporate donation is a simple and efficient way to demonstrate your corporate support.

To make a one-time or reoccurring corporate donation online, please click here.

Learn more about

How to Sponsor

Thinking about becoming a corporate partner of Breast Cancer Canada? Amazing. work with all types of organizations. We’ll help you deliver results which are measurable. National or local.

A partnership with Breast Cancer Canada is a win-win. It improves employee engagement, boosts morale, fosters a tighter culture. It raises your organization’s profile and demonstrates your support for breast cancer research. To customers. To employees. To suppliers. Most of all – it makes a positive impact for those affected directly by breast cancer.

We’ll raise money for life-saving breast cancer research, together.

Let’s talk about building your program!

Contact Dawn Hamilton today to get started.
Email: hello@breastcancerprogress.ca
Phone: 1-800-567-8767 

To make an online corporate donation, please click here.

I am a

Legacy Donor

Over the last 30 years, many generous donors have left a legacy to Breast Cancer Canada in efforts to advance breast cancer research.

No matter what the form of your gift, you will be remembered by your legacy which will live on through each of the lives you touch with your gift.

Learn more about

Legacy donor

Leave a legacy. Plan for a future gift.

  • Leave a gift in your will
  • Donating a life insurance policy
  • Donate a TFSA, RRSP, or RRIF

Support Breast Cancer Canada with a future gift to create a better future for breast cancer patients. Your gift helps to save lives through early detection and improve outcomes with better treatments.

or more information, please contact: hello@breastcancerprogress.ca


This is often called a bequest. It’s the simplest way to make a legacy gift. A gift in your will has no effect on your current income and your estate receives a charitable donation tax receipt. Here’s a sample of simple bequest wording : “To pay the sum of $_________ OR _______% of the residue of my estate to Breast Cancer Canada.”


Life insurance is a way to provide financial security for your family. If the needs of your family are already taken care of, a life insurance policy is a smart way to donate to charity including tax savings for your estate. Speak to your financial advisors for your personalized advice and learn how a gift of life insurance can work for you. Here’s the top-line on ways of leaving gifts of life insurance:

Bequeath your policy to Breast Cancer Canada for the future:

  • Name Breast Cancer Canada as the beneficiary of your policy. BCC will receive your insurance proceeds tax-free. Your estate will receive a donation receipt.

Transfer ownership of a paid-up policy to Breast Cancer Canada now:

  • Want to gift us your existing, paid-up policy right now? Make Breast Cancer Canada the beneficiary and owner of your policy. You will receive a donation receipt for the fair market value of the policy. BCC may redeem the policy now, or hold it and receive the face value in the future – however your gift can be put to best use.

Transfer ownership of a policy on which premiums are still owing to BCC now:

  • Premiums still owing? You can still opt to transfer your policy ownership to BCC. You’ll receive a donation receipt for the policy’s fair market value. Want to make it an ongoing gift? Transfer the ownership to BCC, and still continue to pay the premiums owing. You’ll receive donation receipts for those payments too.


Register a significant difference in the lives of those affected by breast cancer. Donate the proceeds of a registered account: Tax-free savings account (TFSA); Registered retirement savings plan (RRSP); Registered retirement income fund (RRIF). It’s a smart way to make a major contribution. Without reducing your current assets. Without subjecting the funds to probate fees. While reducing taxes on your estate through a donation receipt.

Making a gift like this is easy. Designate Breast Cancer Canada as the beneficiary of your registered account.  You benefit from the full use of your account(s) during your lifetime. We receive any remaining funds after your passing.

For more information, contact: hello@breastcancerprogress.ca

I am a

Individual Donor

When you support Breast Cancer Canada, you are helping to improve and save lives through better treatments and early detection of breast cancer.

Learn more about

Gifting securities

Donating securities is becoming more popular, and supports Breast Cancer Canada just like cash donations. Gifts of publicly traded securities (stocks, bonds, mutual funds) are an easy, tax-effective way to make a contribution towards life-saving research that helps with early detection, better treatments, and ultimately  Securities can be of any size and given immediately, or you can bequeath them to Breast Cancer Canada in your will. Just like a cash donation, you’ll get a donation tax credit for your gift of securities.

Today, most securities are held electronically and are easily transferred from your brokerage account to our BCC brokerage account. Your Financial Advisor can make all the arrangements.

For more information, contact: hello@breastcancerprogress.ca

Send e-cards in memory or honour

Bravery is beautiful. That’s why we encourage you to make a donation in honour of a loved one’s own experience with breast cancer. With your donation, we’ll send a email to acknowledge the dedication to the individual or family.

Make a donation with  eCard by dedicating your donation:

Let’s get started

Corporate matching

Multiply the impact of your donation

Fact: thousands of companies will match donations made by employees.

It’s true, and it’s very generous. Want to know if your company will match your donation to BCC? Use the search tool below. It also has access to all the forms, guidelines, and instructions you need to submit a company-matchable gift donation today.

Search Tool

Monthly Giving

Support life-saving breast cancer research every month of the year.


When you make a monthly contribution to Breast Cancer Canada, you provide stable funding for year-round campaigning and allow us to continue to support research projects across Canada.


To join, simply pre-authorize a monthly deduction from your credit card.

  1. Online:  Donate Now
  2. By Phone: Sign up as a monthly donor by calling Toll Free: 1-800-567-8767
  3. By Mail

Breast Cancer Canada, National Office
415 Exmouth Street Unit # 101
Sarnia, ON N7T 8A4

You will need to provide us the credit card type, number and expiry date, and the amount you would like to give each month.

How to


Volunteers are Breast Cancer Canada’s most important resource, and the backbone of our organization. From helping build our PROgress research to helping breast cancer patients, to supporting events, special fundraising projects and administrative tasks, our volunteers are dedicated to making a positive, life-changing impact.

We ensure our volunteers have the best possible experience and apply the Canadian Code for Volunteer Involvement.

You can help us end breast cancer by:

  • Volunteering with one of our fundraising campaigns. Or a BCC signature event
  • Helping with local community events where you live
  • Joining our PROgress research at a local hub
  • Assisting us with virtual office tasks

Learn more about our volunteer driven Regional Hubs.

Regional Hubs are an integral part of Breast Canada Canada. We connect communities and those committed to our mission to make the goal local. Together, we can save lives through advancing breast cancer research, coast to coast.

Connect to learn more about what is happening in your area: volunteer@breastcancerprogress.ca