Researcher: Dr Timothy Humphrey
Location: University of Oxford
Project title: Finding new ways to take advantage of breast cancers’ weaknesses to stop tumours from growing
Key area: Treatment
Additional information added onto DNA, known as ‘epigenetic’ modifications, determine whether individual genes are turned on or off. Scientists have discovered that defects in epigenetic modifications can help breast cancers to grow and survive. We need to find ways to target these defective epigenetic modifications to prevent breast cancers from growing.
The science behind the project
There are different types of epigenetic modifications found on DNA. Dr Humphrey has been working on a specific type known as histone marks. One defective histone mark in particular is found in roughly 1 in 4 breast cancers, across all subtypes, and could be playing a role in tumour growth. He has recently found that cancers with this defect were sensitive to a drug that is already in clinical trials.
In this project, Dr Humphrey will be investigating how to target defective histone marks in breast cancer. Using breast cancer cells grown in the laboratory, he will study how to treat those that have this particular defective histone mark, using new and existing drugs. Dr Humphrey will use genetic information about tumours donated by breast cancer patients, to search for the genes that could be causing these histone mark defects. This information will help to predict whether a breast cancer patient has a particular defective histone mark, and therefore which treatment strategies will be the most effective for that individual.
What difference will this project make?
This work will improve our understanding of how defective histone marks are involved in the growth and survival of breast cancers. Dr Humphrey’s research could lead to new ways of treating breast cancers more effectively, including those that are hard to treat like triple negative breast cancers, which could ultimately save many lives.