Project details

Researcher: Professor Damian Mole

Location: University of Edinburgh

Project title: Understanding how KMO can affect our immune system and the growth of breast cancer

Key area: Treatment

The challenge

Every year in the UK, around 11,500 women die from breast cancer. Although current treatments do benefit a lot of people with breast cancer, some tumours don’t respond to conventional treatment and so there is a need to develop new approaches. Breast tumours can hide from our immune system, meaning they can’t be detected by our immune cells which normally work to clear anything dangerous from our bodies. This allows cancer cells to survive and thrive. We urgently need to find new ways to stop breast cancer hiding from the immune system so that everyone with breast cancer has the best possible chance of survival.

The science behind the project

Proteins are vital in allowing our body to function as it should. They’re made up of several ‘building blocks’ called amino acids. KMO is a molecule involved in converting proteins into useful molecules that our cells need to function. One of these chemicals is known to be involved in how our immune system works.

Prof Damian Mole has recently found ways to control KMO using newly-discovered medicines. Because KMO is increased in breast cancer cells, blocking KMO may be one way of stopping breast tumours from hiding from the immune system. It has also been shown that people whose breast cancer has higher levels of KMO have a worse chance of survival.

In this project, the team want to understand the role of KMO in breast cancer, and find out whether blocking this molecule with new medicines could make an effective treatment. In experiments with mice, the team will remove KMO to see whether this can help the immune system control the growth of breast tumours. They will also use samples donated by women with breast cancer to confirm whether the amount of KMO in a tumour can be used to predict their chances of survival in the future.

What difference will this project make?

If blocking KMO is shown to allow our immune system to detect and kill cancer cells, Prof Mole’s research will lay the foundations for creating new treatments for breast cancer patients. Excitingly, drugs which block KMO have already been developed by Prof Mole and his collaborators, so if Prof Mole’s project is successful, it could quickly lead to testing these drugs in people with breast cancer. Additionally, if the different levels of KMO seen in breast tumours can be used to predict how a person’s disease will develop, in the future it could help doctors decide the best course of treatment. This could help to ensure that everyone gets treatment which gives them the best possible chance of survival.

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