Researcher: Professor Pascal Meier
Location: The Breast Cancer Now Toby Robins Research Centre, London
Project title: Cell death and immunity team
Key area: Treatment
Cancer cells are extremely resilient and able to survive in harsh conditions, sometimes lingering in the body even after treatment. Finding ways to tackle this resilience will help scientists develop more effective ways to treat breast cancer.
The process of cell death, or apoptosis, is tightly controlled by many different proteins within a cell. This ensures that damaged or diseased cells are removed from the body without killing healthy ones. This process is frequently switched off in cancer cells – allowing them to grow and divide uncontrollably. Professor Meier’s team is investigating how this process of apoptosis is properly controlled to try and understand how it can be switched back on in cancer cells.
How will the team achieve this?
A protein called TNF is capable of kick-starting a variety of cellular processes including cell death. By understanding how this protein functions, the team is investigating whether it is possible to hijack TNF as a way to encourage cancer cells to die.
There are several different ways in which cells can die and each involves slightly different molecular machinery. The team is investigating different types of cell death in relation to how effective treatments are. This will give insight into the best use of different types of treatment against breast cancer.
The team is trying to identify the different proteins that control cell death in the hope that this will lead to new ways to turn it back on in cancer cells.
Inflammation in the breast tissue is thought to play a key role in the growth of tumours, allowing them to avoid the process of cell death. The team is investigating exactly how tissue inflammation has this effect in relation to cell death in cancer.
What difference will this project make?
Professor Meier and his team hope that their research will improve our basic understanding of breast cancer biology and identify new ways to improve treatments for patients. Being able to turn cell death back on in cancer could help reduce the doses of chemotherapy or radiotherapy needed to kill a patient’s cancer cells. A deeper understanding of the proteins controlling cell death could also lead to the discovery of new targets for cancer treatment.
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