Dr Penelope Ottewell and her team

Dr Penelope Ottewell (centre) and her team

Project details

Researcher: Dr Penelope Ottewell

Location: University of Sheffield

Project title: Developing new models that accurately mimic the spread of breast cancer to the bones

Key area: Secondary breast cancer

The challenge

When breast cancer cells spread to other sites of the body, such as the bone, the secondary tumours that form become incurable, leading to around 11,500 deaths every year in the UK alone. New and effective treatments for secondary breast cancer are desperately needed, however many drugs developed in the laboratory are unsuccessful when trialled in humans. This is partly due to a lack of accurate and representative models that researchers can use to study how breast cancer cells grow and spread to other parts of the body.

The science behind the project

In order to develop more effective treatments for secondary breast cancer, we need to understand why breast cancer cells spread and how they interact with bone cells to enable secondary tumours to develop. Unfortunately the development of tumours in the bone is difficult to study in patients and current mouse models do not successfully mimic the environment that human bone grows in.

Dr Penelope Ottewell and her team at the University of Sheffield, aim to solve this problem by generating a new mouse model which will replicate how human breast cancer grows and spreads to the bone. This new model will be the first to mimic all the processes involved in the spread of breast cancer from the site of origin in the breast to the bone and as such should produce more accurate results than previous models. Dr Ottewell and her team will use these models to identify what causes secondary tumours to develop in the bone, before making them available to other researchers.

What difference will this project make?

If human secondary breast cancer can be successfully recreated in mouse models, this will significantly increase our understanding of the formation of secondary breast cancer in the bones, and be a vital asset to researchers developing new, much-needed treatments so that by 2050, everyone who develops breast cancer will live.

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