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A Breast Cancer Research Project That Became Personal

How AI Prediction Models Can Provide Hope To Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Patients

October 10, 2022 | 8:42 pm

Yuval Shachaf / Nucleai / Data Project Lead

Last year, I received an assignment to lead a data project in the field of triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC). Triple-negative is a kind of breast cancer that does not have any of the receptors that are commonly found in breast cancer- Estrogen, Progesterone and HER2.
TNBC differs from other types of invasive breast cancer in that it tends to grow and spread faster, has fewer treatments, and tends to have a worse prognosis.
The aim of our project was to find, using AI, new spatial biomarkers that could be a target for future anti-cancer treatment. Knowing the importance of the project, the team and I first began reviewing the literature regarding TNBC and consulted with leading pathologists and oncologists to get a full view of the challenge ahead of us.
Together we got a better understanding of the histopathological appearance of TNBC and explored the markers that can potentially influence a patient’s outcome. We tried to find co-expressed receptors and correlated that data with different lines of treatment and clinical outcomes. We reached promising results and the atmosphere was very positive. What happened next changed my entire perception of the project.

One day, while working on the AI model and finetuning it’s cell detection I received a phone call from a close friend. She told me it’s an emergency and that she needed my help. Her mother discovered a lump in her breast and went to a doctor. That doctor examined her and decided to take a biopsy as soon as possible. My friend asked if I know any good breast pathologists that could help them diagnose the biopsy. I Immediately asked one of our company’s breast pathology experts for her help.

After a couple of days, I received a phone call from the expert saying: “I’m very sorry Yuval, she has breast cancer and a very aggressive one too”. She had TNBC.
I was shocked.
I was not prepared for this huge collision between work and my personal life. Suddenly a project that has occupied me professionally for several weeks meets me in such an unexpected place and reminds me how a person’s life turns upside down when she receives such a diagnosis.
The feeling that immediately filled me was guilt. Although I know that the process of finding biomarkers and developing drugs takes time, I told myself that we had to work faster and more efficiently to find a cure for this horrible disease.

The projects we work on, the clinical data we receive – are all stories of real people. People whose world turned upside down one day and are in a constant war for their lives. This story reinforced the knowledge that the team at Nucleai and I have an incredibly important task, in finding new treatments and biomarkers that will help people in the fight against cancer.

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