Researcher: Dr Niamh Buckley
Location: Queen’s University Belfast
Project title: Investigating new ways to identify and treat patients with a poor prognosis
Project cost: £550,852
Patients with triple negative breast cancer have limited treatment options because their breast tumours lack the receptors which targeted therapies like tamoxifen and Herceptin act against. In addition to limited treatment options, there are no accurate ways of telling whether a certain drug will succeed or fail in treating these patients or others with similar breast cancer types. It is vital that scientists develop new treatments for more aggressive types of breast cancer, to improve the chances of survival for thousands of patients and stop more people losing their loved ones.
Two related types of breast cancer – triple negative breast cancer and basal-like breast cancer – have particularly poor outcomes, and there are limited treatment options available. Dr Buckley believes that a protein called BRCA1 might not be working in some cases of these breast cancer types, because they are similar to the type of breast cancer seen in patients who have inherited a faulty BRCA1 gene. She has found that an activity within cells called NF kappa B (NFκB) signalling, which is over-activated when BRCA1 is absent, could be important in these breast cancers.
During her Breast Cancer Now scientific fellowship, Dr Buckley aims to find why this is the case by altering the amount of BRCA1 in breast cancer cells and measuring the activation of NFκB signalling, and understanding how this process is controlled. In addition, Dr Buckley will investigate what genes are turned on or off by NFκB signalling, and whether this could be used to identify how patients will respond to existing drugs used to treat triple negative breast cancer, as well as new drugs that are currently in development.
What difference will this project make?
Triple negative breast cancer is a diverse disease and not all patients respond to drugs in the same way. Dr Niamh Buckley hopes her work investigating BRCA1 and overactive NFκB signalling will enable doctors to better classify these patients, and provide opportunities to tailor their treatment and develop new drugs.
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