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Manchester scientists investigate how to stop a more aggressive form of breast cancer spreading

Researchers are investigating how to stop triple negative breast cancer spreading, thanks to new funding from Breast Cancer Now.

The charity has awarded £249,992 to Dr Sankari Nagarajan and her team at the University of Manchester to help discover why some triple negative breast cancers spread to other parts of the body and whether existing drugs can be repurposed to stop this from happening.

Around 15%* of breast cancers are classed as triple negative and if this form of the disease becomes resistant to chemotherapy, there are few other treatments available.

Triple negative breast cancer is also more likely than most other breast cancers to return or spread within five years following diagnosis**.

When breast cancer cells spread from the first cancer in the breast to other parts of the body it’s called secondary or metastatic breast cancer and although treatable, it currently can’t be cured.

Dr Nagarajan and her team recently discovered that lower levels of a protein called ARID2 in triple negative breast cancer can help cancer cells spread. They also found that ARID2 works with proteins called nuclear receptors to control certain genes.

The scientists are now investigating the exact ways in which ARID2 and nuclear receptors work together. They will look at how these proteins influence the activity of different genes in triple negative breast cancer cells that have been grown in the lab, and samples donated by patients to the Breast Cancer Now Tissue Bank.

Finally, they will test clinically approved drugs that block certain nuclear receptors, to see if they can control the spread of triple negative breast cancer in mice.

This will include a drug called mifepristone, which works in this way and is used for medical abortions where pills are taken to end pregnancy.

Dr Sankari Nagarajan said: “Chemotherapy is highly effective for many women with triple negative breast cancer. However, in the cases when the cancer doesn’t respond, there are limited targeted treatments available.

“If we can understand what helps these tumours spread to other parts of the body, we can hopefully find new, better ways to treat the disease. This could include repurposing drugs that block nuclear receptors to improve breast cancer survival and people’s quality of life.”  

Dr Simon Vincent, Breast Cancer Now’s director of research, support and influencing said: “Each year around 8,000 UK women are diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, which is usually a more aggressive form of breast cancer and more likely to return or spread soon after treatment.

“That’s why Breast Cancer Now is funding this important research that could lead to new, effective ways to treat people with triple negative breast cancer and stop them dying from this devastating disease.”

Breast Cancer Now is the research and support charity here for anyone affected by breast cancer. Call their free helpline on 0808 800 6000 to speak to their expert nurses or find out more and donate at


Notes to editors:

* Diana, A., Carlino, F., Franzese, E. et al (2020). Early Triple Negative Breast Cancer: Conventional Treatment and Emerging Therapeutic Landscapes. Cancers, 12(4), 819.

** Lee, A., & Djamgoz, M. (2018). Triple negative breast cancer: Emerging therapeutic modalities and novel combination therapies. Cancer treatment reviews, 62, 110–122 and Dent, R., Trudeau, M., Pritchard. et al. (2007). Triple-Negative Breast Cancer: Clinical Features and Patterns of Recurrence. Clinical Cancer Research, 13(15), 4429-4434.



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