Improving ways to direct chemotherapy into breast cancer cells

Start Year: 2013
Finish Year: 2015
Chief Investigator: Dr Stuart Fraser
Grant Type: Novel Concept Awards
Institution: The University of Sydney

This project aims to develop ways to transport chemotherapy more directly to breast cancer cells, avoiding damage to surrounding healthy cells.

Copper, which is important for cell function, enters cells by binding to proteins called copper transporters. The two copper transporters identified in humans, CTR1 and CTR2, also carry platinum into cells. Platinum is the basis for chemotherapies, such as cisplatin, which are commonly used to treat breast cancer. While some patients respond well to cisplatin, others do not benefit from this treatment.

In breast cancers, expression of CTR1 is associated with a good prognostic outcome, whereas CTR2 levels are associated with a poor prognosis. Dr Stuart Fraser’s research aims to identify what cell types in the normal breast express CTR1 and CTR2, and whether the expression of these transporter proteins could help to classify different types and stages of breast cancer.

He will then explore whether breast cancer cells that are not normally sensitive to cisplatin can be made to respond to this treatment by manipulating their levels of CTR using agents called copper chelators.

A greater understanding of the role of copper transporters in breast cancer development and treatment response will help to better tailor treatments to the individual patient – the cornerstone of a personalised approach to cancer treatment.

If successful, this work could lead to the use of CTR as a predictor of response to cisplatin and opportunities to combine chemotherapy with copper chelators to make treatment more effective.