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Project details

Researcher: Professor Gary Cook

Location: King's College London

Project title: Testing a tracer to measure the response of secondary tumours in the bone to treatment

Research theme: Secondary breast cancer

The challenge

One of the most common sites for breast cancer to spread to is the bones. Treatments to control and contain these tumours are available, but it can take months to determine if a treatment is working, and in the meantime, patients could be experiencing side-effects from these drugs. We need to develop new ways to tell at an early stage whether a treatment is successfully controlling secondary breast cancer in the bone to be able to offer patients the most appropriate treatment.

The science behind the project

Professor Gary Cook and his team have recently shown that a radioactive ‘tracer’ molecule, called 99mTc-maraciclatide, can be used to highlight secondary tumours in the bone in men with prostate cancer. The tracer attaches itself to cells which remodel the bone as secondary tumours grow, and is detected using a type of hospital scan called SPECT. 

Professor Cook wants to test whether this same tracer and scan can be used to detect secondary breast tumours in the bone. In addition, he wants to understand whether this technique can be used to evaluate the response of tumours to treatment at an earlier stage than is currently possible. 
In this project, Professor Cook and his team will recruit 25 women who are receiving treatment for breast cancer which has spread to the bone. They will receive SPECT scans using the 99mTc maraciclatide tracer, before treatment and at 12 weeks into treatment. The changes in the ‘brightness’ of the tracer between these scans will be compared to the existing methods used to tell if someone’s cancer has responded to treatment. Existing methods include blood tests to look for specific molecules, imaging techniques such as CT scans and X-ray, and clinical measures such as bone pain, and will be used at 12 and 24 weeks into treatment.

What difference will this project make?

Professor Gary Cook’s study will provide the evidence for larger clinical trials to determine whether using the 99mTc-maraciclatide tracer with SPECT scans can provide an inexpensive but efficient method to track how secondary tumours in the bone respond to treatment. Being able to tell whether a treatment is working at an early stage will help ensure that breast cancer patients receive the most appropriate treatments for them, and can live well for longer.