Project details

Researcher: Professor Sara Zanivan

Location: The Beatson Institute for Cancer Research, Glasgow

Project cost: £229,961

The challenge

Triple negative breast cancer currently lacks targeted treatments that are used for other forms of the disease. To stop people dying from triple negative breast cancer, we need to further understand this form of the disease and find new ways to successfully treat it.

The science behind the project

Breast tumours are made up of a collection of different types of cells. In addition to cancer cells, there are other cells that can ‘talk’ to cancer cells and, in some cases, can help them grow. Some of these cells are called cancer-associated fibroblasts, or CAFs for short. They are found in large numbers inside breast tumours and can help breast cancer cells grow and move around.

In her on-going work, Professor Zanivan discovered that a protein called PDH is highly active in CAFs. She will now look at how high levels of PDH in these non-cancer cells can help breast cancer cells to grow and spread. In addition, Professor Zanivan will investigate if targeting PDH with therapy could be a promising way to treat triple negative breast cancer in the future.

Professor Zanivan will genetically change CAFs donated by patients with triple negative breast cancer, to make PDH less active. This will allow her to see how important PDH is for these non-cancer cells and whether they can still help tumours grow and spread. By using a mouse model of triple negative breast cancer and disrupting the production of PDH in non-cancer cells, she will be able to investigate whether targeting PDH with therapies could be an effective treatment for people with triple negative breast cancer.

What difference will this project make?

Triple negative breast cancer can be an aggressive form of breast cancer that can be difficult to treat. By further understanding how this form of breast cancer works, we can find new treatments that are more effective. Professor Zanivan and her team hope to understand if using existing therapies to target PDH in non-cancer cells could help save the lives of people with triple negative breast cancer.

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