Project details

Researcher: Dr Niamh Buckley

Location: Queen’s University Belfast

Project cost: £228,902

The challenge

Around 15% of breast cancers are classed as triple negative. This form of breast cancer can be more aggressive than other forms of the disease. There are currently limited targeted treatments available for triple negative breast cancer. We urgently need to address this and find new and effective ways to treat people diagnosed with this type of breast cancer.

The science behind the project

Niamh and her team use a similar technique to that used in the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines to develop a new way to treat triple negative breast cancer. The treatment aims to stimulate the immune system to recognise and fight the cancer with minimal side effects.

The treatment is targeting a protein called p53. Almost 90% of triple negative breast cancers contain an abnormally large amount of this protein compared to healthy cells. And there is a simple test to check if a tumour has a lot of p53. This means doctors could easily test who is most likely to benefit from the treatment.

The researchers are using patient samples to determine what part of p53 the vaccine should target and are testing the immune response to this treatment. They are also looking to test the effectiveness of this treatment on its own and in combination with chemotherapy against tumours in mice.

In the future, they hope that this type of vaccine strategy could also be applied to other cancers.

What difference will this project make?

Niamh hopes the vaccine could potentially not only treat primary (early) breast cancer but could also treat cancer if it returns. It could lead to new treatments, helping people with triple negative breast cancer live longer and have a better quality of life.

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