Project details:

Researcher: Professor Richard Clarkson

Where: Cardiff University

Cost: £249,927

The challenge

People with triple negative breast cancer often rely on chemotherapy. But this form of the disease can sometimes become resistant to it. This means that chemo will stop working so well. And there aren’t many other treatment options for people with triple negative breast cancer.

We need to better understand how triple negative breast cancer becomes resistant to chemo, so we can stop it from happening. This could also stop the disease coming back after treatment and spreading to other parts of the body, where it becomes incurable.

The science behind the project

Researchers think that resistance to chemotherapy comes from a special type of tumour cell, called the breast cancer stem cell. Professor Richard Clarkson, from Cardiff University, found that these cancer cells not only resist chemotherapy, but increase in number when treated with chemo in the lab.

Now, Richard and his team would like to find a way to make breast cancer stem cells more sensitive to chemotherapy. They believe that a protein called cFLIP helps these cancer cells resist chemotherapy. And, that it could work in 2 ways – helping breast cancer stem cells stay alive, and helping them hide from the immune system.

The team hope that by blocking cFLIP, they can make breast cancer cells sensitive to chemotherapy. The team will test a drug they’ve made to block cFLIP on breast cancer cells grown in the lab and in mice. They’ll also use it in combination with various chemotherapies to see which one would work best.

What difference will this project make?

The aim of this project is to help more people survive triple negative breast cancer. By learning more about how cFLIP helps cancer to resist chemotherapy, we may be able to find a way to make it more sensitive to chemotherapy again.

cFLIP may also help cancer cells hide from the immune system. Richard and his team believe that targeting cFLIP may stop this from happening. This could also make cancer treatments more effective.

How many people could this project help?

Every year in the UK, over 8,000 people find out they have triple negative breast cancer. That’s 15% of all diagnoses. This research has the potential to improve outcomes and survival for all of them.