Dr Andrew Deans

Dr Andrew Deans has a personal interest in investigating inherited breast cancer.

andrew_deans_270x278What issue in breast cancer is your research addressing?

Environmental factors such as tobacco smoke, UV from the sun and being overweight can trigger the development of cancer by causing damage to DNA. Cells produce a number of proteins that normally recognise and repair damaged DNA, thereby reducing the risk of developing cancer. However, some people inherit mutations in these DNA repair proteins, which means that they accumulate damage in their DNA and usually develop cancer at a young age.

Fanconi anaemia is a very rare, inherited blood disorder associated with a high risk of developing leukemia, and, in some cases, an increased risk of breast cancer. It is caused by an inherited defect in one of 15 different genes that recognise and repair DNA damage. Recent research has suggested there is a strong link between Fanconi anaemia and inherited breast cancer. Through researching the molecular pathways that link these two diseases, we may better understand what causes familial (inherited) breast cancer, and how best to treat it.

How are you addressing the genetic causes of breast cancer?

I am reconstructing this DNA repair pathway in the test tube to try to understand how familial breast cancer and Fanconi anaemia are linked. By producing large amounts of these DNA repair proteins, we can find out what they do, how they fix DNA damage and how they may cause breast cancer if they aren’t working properly.

How will this benefit people with breast cancer?

By developing ways to restore DNA repair in people who have these gene defects, our research could lead to new ways to both prevent and treat familial breast cancer. For example, we know that breast cancer patients with BRCA1 mutations have defective DNA repair and respond very well to a type of drug called PARP inhibitors. It might be possible that PARP inhibitors could be used to treat the type of inherited breast cancer that is linked to Fanconi anaemia, and my research will help to demonstrate that.

What drew you to work in breast cancer research?

I have a personal interest in investigating inherited breast cancer. I remember clearly the day my grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her mother, aunt and sister had all died of breast cancer, and she had five daughters so was terrified at the prospect she had passed on the “breast cancer gene” to her children. Fortunately my grandmother’s treatment was successful, but years later when I was working in the UK, she died from a relapse in her cancer. This made me even more determined to understand the genetics of breast cancer.

How important is NBCF funding to your work?

I completed my postdoctoral research with the London Research Institute, one of the world leaders in my field. NBCF funding has been integral to helping me establish my own laboratory in Melbourne so that I have been able to apply what I learnt in the UK about breast cancer genetics to Australia.