Project details

Researcher: Professor Matthew Smalley and Dr Giusy Tornillo 

Location: Cardiff University

Project title: Understanding how LYN kinase keeps cancer cells alive in BRCA1 mutated tumours

Key area: Treatment

The challenge

People who carry a mutation on one of their BRCA genes have an increased risk of developing breast cancer. In particular, they are more likely to develop ‘triple negative’ breast cancer, a form of the disease which can be more aggressive and which cannot be treated with targeted therapies such as Herceptin. We need to understand the basic biology of how breast cells turn cancerous in individuals with a BRCA mutation. Understanding this will help us create desperately needed new treatments for this type of the disease, and ultimately save lives.

The science behind the project

Professor Matthew Smalley and Dr Giusy Tornillo have previously identified a protein in breast cancer cells called LYN kinase, which they think acts as a ‘molecular switch’. In breast cells, where BRCA1 is mutated, LYN kinase is switched on, which helps cells survive when they normally wouldn’t, allowing them to turn cancerous. They think that this happens early on in breast tumour formation and so want to study the role of LYN kinase further.

In this project, Professor Smalley and Dr Tornillo will use a mouse model of human breast cancer to see whether blocking the activity of LYN kinase could prevent breast tumours from forming. Using breast cancer cells in a lab, they will also observe how BRCA1 and LYN kinase work together in healthy cells to try and understand their normal roles. They will study whether changing the activity of either of these proteins affects how the cells behave.

What difference will this project make?

Professor Smalley and Dr Tornillo hope to understand how LYN kinase contributes to the development of breast cancer. Their research could provide us with a new target to develop much-needed treatments for people with breast cancer who carry a BRCA1 mutation, to give them the best chance of survival. In addition, if the team are correct in thinking that LYN kinase is involved in the early formation of breast cancer, there may also be potential to create treatments which prevent tumour formation in people who are known to carry a BRCA1 mutation.

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