Understanding the role of changing oxygen levels in triple negative breast cancer
Researcher: Professor Ester Hammond
Location: University of Oxford
Project cost: £224,705
In some breast cancer tumours, the oxygen levels can go up and down. This is because the blood vessels delivering the oxygen are not as good as the vessels found in healthy parts of the body. This change in oxygen levels, also known as cyclic hypoxia, is associated with aggressive cancers that are more likely to grow, spread, survive, and resist treatment. We urgently need find new and effective ways to treat people diagnosed with this type of breast cancer.
The science behind the project
Professor Ester Hammond aims to understand what happens in triple negative breast cancer cells that are exposed to these changing oxygen levels and why it makes these cancers harder to treat. The researchers think that cancer cells that experience these changes in oxygen levels make a protein, called APOBEC3B, which makes many changes to their DNA. It is these DNA changes that might make the cancer more aggressive.
To study this, Ester is controlling the oxygen levels that tumour cells are exposed to in the lab. She is testing whether changing oxygen levels lead to alterations in the DNA of the tumour cells that help them to grow faster, resist chemotherapy treatment and spread around the body.
She is also testing how these changes influence the cancers’ response to different types of chemotherapy and aims to test new treatment combinations using mouse models of breast cancer that could be used against these tumours. The researchers also hope to find a way to tell whose cancer is exposed to changing oxygen levels and thus may be more aggressive, so that we can better treat the disease.
What difference will this project make?
Breast cancers with cyclic hypoxia are often aggressive and difficult to treat. This research aims to identify new strategies for the treatment of breast cancer and find a way to identify those who would benefit most.