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Project details

Researcher: Dr Yinyin Yuan

Location: Institute of Cancer Research

Project title: Understanding how non-cancer cells help breast tumours develop anti-hormone treatment resistance

Key area: Treatment

The challenge

Up to 80% of breast cancer patients have ‘ER-positive’ breast cancer, and are treated with anti-hormone treatments such as anastrozole or tamoxifen. However, sometimes their breast cancer can become resistant to these treatments. We need to find ways to predict and avoid resistance to treatments and so improve the chances of survival for thousands of people.

The science behind the project

Tumours are surrounded by many different types of non-cancer cells, known together as ‘stroma’. Scientists already know that tumours rely upon their stroma to help grow and spread, but Dr Yinyin Yuan thinks that this stroma can also provide a safe environment for the cancer cells to ‘evolve’ and develop resistance to treatments. She aims to finds out exactly how the stroma helps breast cancer cells develop resistance in this research project.

Dr Yuan will do this by studying samples of about 3,000 tumours donated by patients who have received anti-hormone treatments before surgery. In these she will be able to identify patches of the tumour which have developed resistance. Using cutting-edge imaging techniques, she will be able to isolate the stroma nearby these resistant patches and investigate how this stroma might have helped the resistant patches in the tumour to evolve.

What difference will this project make?

Dr Yinyin Yuan aims to find ways to predict whether an ER-positive breast tumour is likely to become resistant to anti-hormone treatments. Her research might also reveal ways to prevent or get around this resistance. Ultimately this will help to ensure that patients receive the most appropriate treatments for them which give them the best possible chance of survival.

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