Researcher: Professor Mitch Dowsett and Dr Lesley-Ann Martin
Location: The Breast Cancer Now Toby Robins Research Centre, London
Project title: Endocrinology team
Key area: Treatment
Tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors have been shown to be incredibly effective treatments for patients with hormone-positive breast cancer. However, many of these patients are resistant to treatment or develop resistance over time, allowing their breast cancer to return. We need to understand exactly how and why some patients’ cancers are resistant and others aren’t to be able to select the best possible treatment on an individual basis.
The Endocrinology team aims to identify the key genetic and molecular events that lead to the development of resistance to anti-hormone therapies such as tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors. Their work will identify biomarkers which can be used to predict how likely a patient is to develop resistance so that more suitable treatment options can be offered. By understanding the key events that cause resistance, the team also hopes to be able to help develop new treatments to overcome resistance, which will ultimately prevent the cancer returning.
How will the team achieve this?
Anti-hormone therapy can be an effective treatment against breast cancer, but some cancer cells within the tumour may be resistant because of differences in their genetics. This genetic diversity between cancer cells within a single tumour needs to be further understood to help us predict and prevent treatment resistance in patients. The team is using tissue samples donated by breast cancer patients to investigate the diverse genetic and molecular characteristics of a tumour.
Some patients develop resistance during treatment due to the effects of the drug on their cancer cells. This is known as acquired resistance. The team is trying to characterise the molecular changes that occur in the breast tumour during treatment with anti-hormone therapy to develop new ways to identify patients who are, or are becoming, resistant to the drug.
Tests that predict how likely it is that a patient’s breast cancer will return are useful for ensuring that everyone receives the best possible treatment. The team is trying to develop a way of profiling the molecular make up of a tumour in order to accurately predict how likely a patient is to have a recurrence.
What difference will this project make?
The Endocrinology team is trying to understand resistance to treatment in a clinical setting by making use of tumour samples donated by breast cancer patients. This precious insight will provide results that could directly change how patients are diagnosed and treated.
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