Shailesh Vara, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, met leading scientists funded by charity Breast Cancer Now, as he visited the Centre for Cancer Research & Cell Biology at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) on Friday 30 June.
During a tour of the research labs, Mr Vara met Dr Niamh Buckley and Dr Paul Mullan to learn about their ground-breaking research into ‘triple negative’ breast cancer, which is funded by the UK’s largest breast cancer charity, Breast Cancer Now.
Around 15% of all breast cancers are ‘triple negative’, with around 7,500 women in the UK being diagnosed each year. More common among younger women, and among black women, triple negative breast cancers can be highly aggressive – and lack the three receptors routinely used to guide treatment for breast cancers; the oestrogen receptor (ER), progesterone receptor (PR), and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2).
Unfortunately, there are limited treatments available for this form of the disease, which is more likely to spread to another part of the body where it becomes incurable.
Dr Mullan – who has been awarded more than £600,000 by the charity since 2008 – spoke to Mr Vara about his cutting-edge research, which he hopes will lead to the development of new, targeted chemotherapy drugs for those with the most aggressive types of breast cancer.
Dr Buckley, who is a Breast Cancer Now Scientific Fellow and has also been awarded over £600,000 by the charity since 2012, told Mr Vara about her research involving patient tissue samples from the Breast Cancer Now Tissue Bank – the UK’s largest unique collection of high-quality breast tissue, breast cells and blood samples from breast cancer patients.
Dr Buckley demonstrated her team’s work to identify new biomarkers and treatment targets for triple negative breast cancer, which she hopes will help ensure that patients receive the treatments that will be most effective for their type of cancer.
NI Minister Mr Vara has long been passionate about improving outcomes for women diagnosed with breast cancer, and previously sought to increase the age range for routine screening from 50-70 to 45-75 through a Private Member’s Bill in 2006.
He has also hosted several events in the House of Commons in recent years to encourage support for Breast Cancer Now’s flagship fundraiser, wear it pink.
Shailesh Vara, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and MP for North West Cambridgeshire, said:
It was fantastic to find out first-hand about the pioneering research that Breast Cancer Now is funding at Queen’s University Belfast, and to hear from the scientists about how their research is tackling the disease head-on.
It was heartening and inspiring to see this important, innovative research happening here in Northern Ireland. Hopefully, this will help us save more lives from breast cancer in the future.
Every year, more than 1,300 women and around 10 men in Northern Ireland are diagnosed with breast cancer, and sadly around 300 women still lose their lives to the disease.
Thanks to the generosity of Breast Cancer Now’s supporters, researchers have made great strides in enhancing our understanding of breast cancer, from developing liquid biopsies and identifying how healthy cells can help cancer to spread to analysing data from the Breast Cancer Now Generations Study to pinpoint the causes of the disease.
Katherine Woods, Senior Research Communications Manager at Breast Cancer Now, said:
We were delighted to welcome Mr Vara to the labs at Queen’s University Belfast to showcase some of the world-class breast cancer research that our supporters are making possible.
Thanks to research carried out at the University, we have seen huge improvements in our understanding of breast cancer and how to treat it, but sadly the disease is still taking lives on a heart-breaking scale.
Every advance made helps our researchers piece together this puzzle, bringing us a step closer to the day where no woman dies of breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Now currently supports more than 450 of the world’s brightest researchers at more than 29 locations across the UK and Ireland. Together, they’re working to discover how to prevent breast cancer, how to detect it earlier and how to treat it effectively at every stage so we can stop the disease taking lives.
Dr Buckley’s Breast Cancer Now Scientific Fellowship is made possible by the generous support of ASDA’s Tickled Pink.