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Our top 5 research breakthroughs of 2023

Research is the key to stopping breast cancer in its tracks. And our scientists have been working hard throughout the year to better understand breast cancer. With this comes some amazing discoveries, from improving treatments to discovering new ways to predict breast cancer spreading.

Our research communications officer, Edd, explains the biggest discoveries of the year. And what they mean for people living with breast cancer.

A new way to boost breast cancer treatment

In early 2023, our researchers found a way to potentially improve treatment effectiveness, by targeting a different form of a common protein.

Dr Ahmet Ucar and this team from the University of Manchester found that a protein called RAC1B can help the disease become resistant to treatment, spread and return.

Also, Ahmet found that RAC1B can help breast cancer stem cells. These breast cancer stems cells can cause cancer to become resistant to treatment and spread and come back. And they found that in mice, the breast cancer stem cells that lacked RAC1B couldn't form visible tumours, even after 100 days. They also found that cancer cells without RAC1B were more vulnerable to a type of chemotherapy.

Ahmet and his team hope that in the future, targeting RAC1B could hold the key to boosting treatment for breast cancer.

A new way to help prevent secondary breast cancer

Then in March, our scientists uncovered a way in which breast cancer cells ‘wake-up’ and form secondary tumours . Dr Frances Turell and Professor Clare Isacke, from the Breast Cancer Now Toby Robins Research Centre at the Institute of Cancer Research, London found molecular changes in the lungs that help breast cancer cells form secondary tumours.

The researchers found that a protein called PDGF-C plays a major part in influencing whether inactive breast cancer cells stay asleep or wake up.

Now, the team want to better understand if people with breast cancer might benefit from an existing drug called imatinib, which can target the effects of PDGF-C. And in the future, they hope to create treatments targeting the ‘reawakening’ mechanism.

Scientist working in a lab

An AI model that can predict if breast cancer can spread

Then in May, researchers from our Research Unit at King’s College London developed an AI model that can predict if someone is likely to develop secondary breast cancer. Professor Anita Grigoriadis found that by looking at the lymph nodes of women with triple negative breast cancer, the AI model could predict if the disease would spread.

The team tested the AI model on more than 5,000 lymph nodes that 345 patients donated to biobanks. They confirmed that the AI model could predict how likely the disease was to spread to other organs.

The researchers hope that eventually this AI model could one day assist doctors in planning treatment. This could also help reassure people with breast cancer about the disease spreading to other parts of the body.

A new way to use existing breast cancer drugs

In July, our researchers discovered that people with changes in a gene called SF3B1 may benefit from PARP inhibitors. The SF3B1 gene is linked to various cancer types, including oestrogen receptor positive (ER positive) breast cancer and certain forms of blood and skin cancer.

Dr Rachael Natrajan and her team tested 80 drugs to find which drugs may be effective against cancers with an altered SF3B1 gene. And they found that drugs called PARP inhibitors were effective at destroying cancer cells with changes to the SF3B1 gene in the lab.

The next step is testing the results of this study in clinical trials. If successful, this means that existing PARP inhibitor drugs could potentially help thousands more people.

More evidence physical activity reduces the risk of breast cancer

More recently, researchers found more evidence that physical activity can lower a woman's risk of getting breast cancer before the menopause

Dr Michael Jones and his team analysed data from over 540,00 women from 19 studies, including the Generations Study, to study the link between physical activity and the risk of getting breast cancer.

Michael and his team found that women who were in the top 10% of most active participants were 10% less likely to develop breast cancer before the menopause. This was compared to those 10% least active participants.

These findings highlight that being physically active is good for our health. And how important it is to support people with lifestyle changes that can help lower their risk of breast cancer.



Here's to 2023

So, here’s to 2023. Another year of groundbreaking research, and it wouldn’t be possible without your support. We hope that with you by our side, 2024 will bring us even closer to our goal. That by 2050, everyone diagnosed with breast cancer will live and be supported to live well.

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