Project details

Researcher: Professor Nicola Sibson

Location: University of Oxford

Project title: Finding new treatment combinations for secondary breast cancer in the brain

Key area: Secondary breast cancer

The challenge

When breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body, it can often be controlled for a while but sadly can no longer be cured. Secondary breast tumours in the brain can also cause debilitating side-effects. We need to find ways to stop the spread of breast cancer to the brain in order to stop people dying from the disease and improve quality of life.

The science behind the project

Treating secondary breast tumours in the brain is particularly difficult because many breast cancer drugs cannot get across the ‘blood-brain barrier’ and into the brain. Researchers are therefore trying to find drugs that can work in combination with radiotherapy, one of the few treatments that can be used to treat secondary tumours in the brain.

Professor Nicola Sibson wants to understand whether anti-inflammatory drugs, like those used to treat arthritis, could be used to treat secondary breast tumours in the brain. To do this, she will test a range of anti-inflammatory drugs against breast tumours implanted into the brains of mice. The most effective combinations will then be tested alongside radiotherapy in these mice. Professor Sibson will also try to identify ways to predict which patients are most likely to benefit from anti-inflammatory drugs and radiotherapy.

In addition, Professor Sibson will study the role of ‘adhesion’ molecules, which glue cells together, but can also affect the survival of cancer cells. She believes that blocking these molecules could also help treat secondary tumours in the brain.

What difference will this project make?

Professor Sibson’s research will help to find useful combinations of treatments for secondary breast tumours in the brain, which could then be tested in patients. Ultimately her research could improve the chances of survival for people with secondary breast tumours in the brain, as well as improving their quality of life.

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