Project details

Researcher: Dr Alan McIntyre

Location: University of Nottingham

Project title: Understanding how cancer cells can adapt to low oxygen conditions and identifying the most effective targets to treat triple negative breast cancer

Key area: Treatment

The challenge

All cells need oxygen, which is carried by the blood, to survive. Cancer cells may quickly outgrow their blood supply, leading to oxygen deprivation (hypoxia): however they are able to adapt to these conditions, which can help them become resistant to chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Areas of hypoxia are often found in triple negative breast tumours, an aggressive form of breast cancer with limited treatment options; this study will look for ways to target hypoxia in triple negative breast cancer.

The science behind the project

Cancer cells can undergo molecular changes that allow them to survive and grow in hypoxic conditions. A group of proteins, known as BET proteins, enable hypoxia-induced changes to occur; previous research by Dr Alan McIntyre has shown that some of these changes can be prevented by targeting the BET proteins with a drug known as JQ1. 

The team will now study the BET proteins further to understand precisely how they are involved in encouraging cancer cells to survive in hypoxia using both mouse and cell models of triple negative breast cancer. 

They also aim to identify whether targeting one specific BET protein, rather than the entire group of proteins, can treat hypoxic triple negative breast cancer more effectively. 

What difference will this project make?

Drugs similar to JQ1 are already being studied for different tumour types in clinical trials: it is hoped that this research will speed up the development of BET-targeting drugs, leading to new and much-needed treatments for patients with triple negative breast cancer.