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Monthly breast cancer research update – March 2017

March 27th, 2017

March was an exciting month for breast cancer research, with discoveries reported in many of the areas critical to saving lives and living better with breast cancer. From using nano-particles for triple negative breast cancer, to blood tests and new information about male breast cancer the research gives hope for the future.

Triple negative: NBCF-funded Dr Anabel Sorolla-Bardaji is exploring the use of nanoparticles in treating triple negative breast cancer, the most aggressive type of breast cancer, for which there are not yet any effective treatments and she’s seen some exciting preliminary results from her research.

Treatment resistance: Breast cancer’s ability to develop resistance to treatment has frustrated researchers and physicians with its ability to thwart even the latest and most promising targeted therapies. Now, investigations into epigenetics – the study of genetic changes not related to DNA sequences – has led to a better understanding of how cancer functions and could mean less resistance to treatments in future.

Blood tests: Taking tumour cells from the blood of breast cancer patients researchers have used advanced micro technology to break the cells open and tests for eight known cancer proteins – called biomarkers. The aim is to be able to monitor the body’s response to cancer therapy via easy blood tests.

breast cancer research
Dr Sarah-Jane Dawson is funded by the National Breast Cancer Foundation

NBCF note: NBCF-funded Dr Sarah-Jane Dawson is also investigating tumour cells in the blood to develop a blood test for returning cancer. She says, “Recent advances in genomic technologies have made it possible to determine specific DNA mutations in a patient’s tumour, and many of these changes can now be readily identified from a simple blood test. These blood tests could become the standard in even closer monitoring of patients to personalise and accelerate treatments that will successfully target tumour regrowth – ultimately increasing survival rates,”

Male breast cancer: Two key proteins involved in male breast cancer have been identified potentially paving the way for more effective treatments. The discovery means that a simple additional test for the two proteins could now be developed to determine whether adjusting treatment in men with high levels of these proteins could improve their outcomes.

BRCA: US researchers have found that breast cancer cells can trigger the self-destruction of the BRCA1 proteins which are usually involved in supressing tumours. This information may help scientists more fully understand the extent to which some individuals with BRCA1 mutations are more disposed to cancer than others, based on physical changes to the BRCA1 protein structure.

NBCF note: NBCF funded researcher Professor Melissa Southey is conducting a large nation-wide study of men and women at high-risk of breast cancer who have tested negative for mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 to find more genes linked to breast cancer. Ultimately she hopes that genetic tests will yield more information for these people so that they can make better informed choices around prevention.