Researcher: Professor Nick Turner
Location: The Mary-Jean Mitchell Green Laboratory at the Breast Cancer Now Toby Robins Research Centre, London
Project title: Molecular Oncology team
Key area: Treatment
Breast cancer is an incredibly diverse and complex disease, which means treatments that work for one patient won’t necessarily work for another. We need to identify the best way to select patients for the most appropriate treatment so that everyone can benefit from truly personalised medicine.
Professor Nick Turner and the Molecular Oncology team aim to identify the specific molecular changes that occur in different types of breast cancer and how we can use current drugs - or develop new ones - to target these changes. The ultimate goal of the team is to aid the development of new targeted treatments and new ways to select patients for particular drugs in a personalised way. Their key focus is on the development of a blood test (called a liquid biopsy) that can be used to identify exactly what drug, or combination of drugs, a patient will benefit from. This method would be less invasive than a traditional biopsy so patients could be monitored regularly during treatment for signs that they are developing resistance to a drug and if so, rapidly moved on to a more appropriate treatment.
Professor Nick Turner’s work is very generously supported by the Trustees of The Mary-Jean Mitchell Green Foundation.
How will the team achieve this?
DNA from breast cancer cells can be detected in a blood sample, through a procedure known as a liquid biopsy. The team is using this technique to see if they can detect genetic mutations that suggest a patient’s cancer is developing resistance to a drug.
Using the liquid biopsy they are also looking for new genetic mutations that can provide useful information about the biology of drug resistance in patients.
Professor Turner and his team are using the liquid biopsy to investigate if the tumour DNA found in the blood can be used to predict how well a patient will respond to a particular therapy.
Finally, they are using the liquid biopsy to see whether DNA in a patient’s blood sample can be used to predict how likely it is that a patient’s breast cancer comes back following treatment.
What difference will this project make?
Professor Turner and his team’s research aims to ensure that one day all patients will receive the most effective course of treatment – targeted at the biological characteristics of their individual tumour. This will enable more patients to successfully overcome breast cancer, with fewer going on to have their cancer return or spread to other parts of the body. The development of a liquid biopsy also offers the benefit of a less invasive and potentially more accurate way to diagnose patients.
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