Project details

Researcher: Professor Leonie Young

Location: Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Dublin

Project title: Understanding how RET helps breast cancer to spread to the brain

Key area: Secondary breast cancer

The challenge

If breast cancer spreads throughout the body, sadly it cannot be cured. Secondary tumours which form in the brain can be particularly aggressive, and there are limited treatment options to control them. What’s more, these tumours can cause debilitating side-effects, and so can have a huge impact on a person’s quality of life. We desperately need to find new ways to prevent and treat the spread of breast cancer to the brain.

The science behind the project

Professor Leonie Young, Dr Damir Varešlija and the team have found that mutations which activate a protein called RET are particularly common in secondary tumours in the brain. 

In this project, they will be studying the role of RET in the spread of breast cancer to the brain. She will investigate how blocking RET using an experimental drug, or removing the RET gene, affects the ability of breast cancer cells to multiply, invade and migrate. Professor Young and her team will study whether removing RET affects the ability of breast cancer cells implanted into mice to spread to the brain and form new tumours there. 

The researchers will also investigate whether the experimental drug that blocks RET can cross into the brain from the blood – a step which has prevented the success of many treatments for tumours in the brain.  

Finally, Professor Young will be looking at how RET affects the activation of different genes in breast cancer cells, to understand more about how secondary tumours develop in the brain, and how RET is involved. 

What difference will this project make?

Professor Young’s work will hopefully lead to clinical trials of drugs which block RET to treat secondary breast cancer in brain. This could eventually lead to new treatments to prevent or control the spread of breast cancer to the brain, which will improve and extend the lives of people living with secondary breast cancer.