Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland Coláiste Ríoga na Máinleá in Éirinn

RCSI scientist to shed light on the role of calcium deposits in breast cancer development

28 July 2014

Dr Maria Morgan, a scientist based in RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland)'s Department of Molecular and Cellular Therapeutics (MCT), has been awarded a grant worth over £90,000 (€112,821) by research charity Breast Cancer Campaign to investigate whether calcium deposits in the breast encourage the growth of breast tumours.

Dr Maria Morgan
‘Microcalcifications' are calcium deposits that show up on a mammogram as white flecks, and can help identify early breast tumours. It is not clear how or why microcalcifications form, and it was thought that these were nothing more than an ‘artifact' and had no significant role in breast cancer.

However, Dr Maria Morgan (Senior Lecturer in MCT), based at RCSI, believes that these calcium deposits may play an active role in breast cancer - by causing inflammation, they could be encouraging breast cancer cells to grow into a tumour.

Breast cancer is Ireland's most common cancer in women, with nearly 2,800 new cases diagnosed every year, and almost 700 women sadly dying from the disease each year on average .

Dr Morgan said: "Currently, we don't know why some tumours deposit calcium in this way, and whether microcalcifications have an active role in breast cancer.

"The grant I have received from Breast Cancer Campaign will enable me to study these calcium deposits in detail and find out if they encourage tumours to grow in the breast, which could ultimately lead to new ways of diagnosis."

During the three-year project, Dr Morgan will study microcalcifications produced by different breast cancer cells, as well as non-cancerous cells grown in a lab. Dr Morgan will also identify the different calcium-containing compounds produced by breast cancer cells and investigate if there is a link between the different compounds and the aggressiveness of the breast cancer cells.

Katherine Woods, Research Communications Manager at Breast Cancer Campaign, said: "Dr Morgan's research into this area is vital and could ultimately lead to new ways to diagnose breast cancer and better treatments.

"This would improve the chances of survival for people with breast cancer and bring us one step closer to our goal that by 2030 we will have identified what causes different tumours to grow and progress - enabling us to select the best treatment for every patient."

Editor's Notes:
• Breast Cancer Campaign funds innovative breast cancer research, bringing together the brightest minds to share knowledge to produce better, quicker results to overcome and outlive breast cancer.

• As of March 2014, Breast Cancer Campaign funds 88 research grants throughout the UK and Ireland, worth £12.9 (€16.2) million

• Breast Cancer Campaign has just launched the campaign ‘#spreadtheword to stop the spread', to highlight that breast cancer is not a done deal. Visit breastcancercampaign/spreadtheword

• Breast Cancer Campaign's action plan Help us find the cures sets out 66 key actions Breast Cancer Campaign will take to address the gaps in breast cancer research to overcome and outlive breast cancer by 2050. 

• The Breast Cancer Campaign Tissue Bank, the UK's first ever national breast cancer tissue bank, is a unique collaboration with four leading research institutions to create a vital resource of breast cancer tissue for researchers across the UK and Ireland. Visit 

• Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK and accounts for nearly one in three of all cancers in women. In the UK, around 50,000 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed each year - that's 138 a day. Visit or follow us at