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Discovering the cause of therapy resistance in estrogen-fuelled breast cancer

Start Year: 2017
Finish Year: 2020
Chief Investigator: Dr Liz Caldon
Grant Type: Early Career Fellowship
Institution: Garvan Institute of Medical Research

Millions of women with a type of breast cancer fuelled by the female hormone estrogen have benefited from treatments such as tamoxifen and femara, which in most cases successfully prevent breast cancer returning later in life.

However, a third of these hormone-driven breast cancers develop resistance to preventative treatments and the cancer becomes metastatic, spreading throughout the body.

Treatment resistance is the highest cause of mortality in breast cancer. It’s vitally important to prevent this metastatic stage of breast cancer but as yet there are no effective tests or personalised therapies that can identify or help these women and men.

Dr Liz Caldon
Dr Liz Caldon

NBCF-funded Dr Liz Caldon believes that the survival and quality of life would improve significantly if it was possible to predict from the first diagnosed cancer whether it is likely that someone’s cancer will recur, and then treat any recurrence with drugs that are specifically toxic to hormone resistant breast cancer.

But first she is focusing on improving our understanding of hormone resistant breast cancer, specifically the molecular changes that occur as the cancer cells develop resistance, including which genes might be involved.

With this knowledge she and her team will design better predictive tests that detect the presence of resistant cancer cells well before they start to grow as a secondary cancer. They will also determine if these cells have any particular qualities that mean they could be specifically targeted and destroyed during therapy.

Ultimately, this research project aims to eliminate the development of resistance to treatment and stop recurrence from ever happening, providing hope for women and men with hormone resistant breast cancer.