Breast cancer is still the most common cancer for women, with around 55,000 people diagnosed each year. Every October we raise awareness and money, so we can find new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat it.
Half a century of cancer research
Tenovus Cancer Care has a long history of funding research into breast cancer. Back in 1975, scientists at the Tenovus Institute for Cancer Research were among the first to show that Tamoxifen was actually highly effective at stopping the growth of breast cancer cells. Since then, Tamoxifen has gone on to be the most successful and widely used breast cancer drug in the world, saving the lives of millions of women.
In the last ten years, we’ve invested over £450,000 into breast cancer research and we continue to fund innovative projects.
How research progresses
Back in 2009 we funded a PhD student called Luke Piggott who was looking into secondary tumours in breast cancer patients. Secondary tumours happen when cancer spreads to other places, and are much harder to treat.
Within these secondary tumours, there is one cell that’s thought to come from a cancer stem cell (these are cells in our bodies which can divide and become lots of different kinds of cells which do different things e.g skin, muscle, nerves etc) which causes the primary tumours, and causes the tumours to spread.
Luke found that one combination of drugs was very good at killing these stem cells and treating breast cancer. Often cancer drugs kill healthy cells as well as cancer cells but the treatment Luke found was very targeted, only killing cancer cells. Luke’s research used cells that were grown in the lab, but we really want to know whether the same thing works when using real breast cancer tissue.
In 2013, Luke went on to Co-supervise a PhD student, Andreia Silva who would help continue this research.
Andreia’s work uses real breast cancer tissues from patients. The results showed a profound sensitivity of the breast cancer tissue to the drugs used. The best response was seen in Tamoxifen resistant breast cancer tissue, meaning the method used could be applied to breast cancer patients who relapse on Tamoxifen.
Current and recent projects
Preventing the spread of breast cancer
In the last few decades treatments for breast cancer have improved significantly, so that survival rates are better than ever. But thousands of women still die from breast cancer every year, and that’s often down to the tumour spreading, which is known as ‘metastasis’.
We know that a particular protein called Bcl3 is involved in how breast cancer spreads but it’s the way that it does this that’s currently unknown. Rochelle’s PhD aims to look further into how other proteins in the body interact with Bcl3, leading to the spread of breast cancer. With this information we can better understand the effect that recently-developed drugs have on this process, and further the development of the next generation of drugs for treating breast cancer metastasis.
Side effects of treatment
We know that some women with breast cancer experience fatigue from their radiotherapy treatment. Dr Courtier’s iGrant evaluated a tool to identify patients at a risk of fatigue and offered an intervention to manage it.
Dr Courtier found the tool was a good predictor of fatigue risk and that participants who received the intervention had lower average fatigue. These results will now feed into a larger trial on the effectiveness of the intervention.
Our PhD student Hung Chang Chen’s project focussed on immunotherapy; the process of using the body’s own immune system to kill cancer cells.
His research tested a new approach by making all human breast cancer cells vulnerable to attack by activated immune cells. The new approach found a connection between the activated and inactivated immune cells in the killing of breast cancer cells. These findings suggest patients receiving certain types of immunotherapy may benefit from co-administration of other drugs (zoledronate) or a simultaneous transfer of multiple genes.The team are now developing the technology to use their preclinical models for new research in this area and making them available to others, by bringing together expertise in cancer cell research as well as state-of-the-art in vivo imaging techniques.
If you’d like to find out more about our research, click here.
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