To be able to grow, cancer cells need to divide. But they do this in an abnormal way, which causes the uncontrollable growth of tumours. Professor Judy Coulson is studying this process in more detail, with the hope of developing new therapies to improve survival for patients.

Project details

Researcher: Professor Judy Coulson

Location: University of Liverpool

Research Theme: Treatment

The challenge

Some breast cancer tumours have markers on their surface which make them vulnerable to targeted treatments. Triple negative breast cancer however, lacks targetable markers, making it more difficult to treat. We need to understand more about the biology of triple negative tumours so we can come up with new ways to treat this form of the disease. We know that tumours divide more often than they should, in a way that is unique to cancer cells. Professor Judy Coulson will study this in more detail and will see whether this process could be targeted.

The science behind the project

Healthy cells regularly divide to form two new cells and they do this in a tightly controlled manner. However, in cancer cells this mechanism is disrupted which causes them to divide and grow uncontrollably. However, breast cancer cells need to use a process called ‘centrosome clustering’ so that they can survive whilst dividing and this process is unique to cancer cells. Professor Judy Coulson has identified how two proteins called DUBs, help cancer cells divide in this way. She will study the role of these proteins in tumour samples donated by women with breast cancer and will alter their function to see what affect it has on breast cancer cells. The hope is that this will mean cancer cells are no longer able to divide, stopping them growing uncontrollably.

What difference will this project make?

Treatments like chemotherapy which target cell division can be highly effective, but they also target healthy cells which can cause horrible side effects for people with breast cancer. The process of centrosome clustering is unique to cancer cells and so by understanding how this process is controlled, in the future, treatments can be developed that target it specifically, reducing treatment side effects. This research could provide new therapies for particularly aggressive forms of the disease like triple negative breast cancer, and ultimately stop people dying from the disease.

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