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Project details

Researcher: Dr James Boyne

Where: University of Bradford

Research Theme: Secondary

Grant ref: 2016NovPhD851

Duration: Three years

The challenge

Around 11,500 women die every year in the UK from breast cancer; the majority of these deaths are caused by secondary breast cancer, which is where the cancer cells have spread from the breast to other sites in the body. Type-two diabetes has been associated with an increased risk of both developing breast cancer and progression to incurable secondary breast cancer. Dr James Boyne and his team will investigate the potential causes of this link between the two diseases.

Aim

To identify the mechanisms behind the increased risk of secondary breast cancer in patients with type-two diabetes.

The science behind the project

Previous studies have shown that platelets, a type of cell found in the blood, may encourage aggressive growth in cancer cells. Platelets clump together when blood vessels are damaged to stop bleeding but they also shed small fragments that may carry ‘messenger molecules’ which could promote growth in cancer cells. Higher levels of platelet fragments have been found in patients with type two diabetes. 

Dr Boyne and his team at the University of Bradford will investigate whether platelet fragments cause changes to the behaviour of breast cancer cells, such as cell growth and survival which are associated with cancer aggression. They will also investigate how these fragments are able to bind to breast cancer cells. 

The team will then identify the messenger molecules, known as miRNAs, which are active in platelet fragments from type-two diabetics. They will then investigate which of these miRNAs are involved in causing changes to breast cancer cells and encouraging them to grow and spread. Using samples from the Breast Cancer Now Tissue Bank, they will also compare the miRNAs found in diabetic and non-diabetic breast cancer patients. 

What difference will this project make?

In addition to furthering our understanding of the link between type two diabetes and an increased risk of breast cancer, this study may help doctors to predict whether a diabetic patient is likely to develop secondary breast cancer. 

This research may also lead to the development of new drugs to target specific miRNAs, providing much needed treatment options for secondary breast cancer patients.

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