Project details

Researchers: Professor Robert Clarke and Dr Rachel Eyre

Location: University of Manchester

Project title: Understanding the role of IL 1β in breast cancer spread to the bones

Key areas: Secondary breast cancer

The challenge

If breast cancer spreads throughout the body, it can be controlled for a while but unfortunately cannot be cured, and is the reason why around 11,500 women lose their lives to breast cancer each year in the UK. We need to find ways to prevent and control breast cancer spread so we can save more lives.

The science behind the project

The most common place for breast cancer to spread to is the skeleton. Professor Robert Clarke has been studying how the environment inside the bones helps cells called ‘breast cancer stem cells’ to survive and multiply to form secondary tumours.

Professor Clarke has found that a molecule found inside bones called ‘IL 1β’ (interleukin-1-beta) is able to trigger a survival mechanism inside breast cancer stem cells. In this project, Professor Clarke and Dr Rachel Eyre they want to understand in detail how IL 1β helps breast cancer stem cells migrate to the bone and survive once they arrive.

By studying breast cancer stem cells grown in the lab and in mice, Professor Clarke and Dr Eyre will test whether drugs that block IL 1β and the survival mechanism it activates could be used to stop secondary tumours forming in the bone. They will also cultivate breast cancer stem cells in the lab with samples of bone donated by patients receiving a hip replacement, which they hope will replicate what happens inside the bones of secondary breast cancer patients.

What difference will this project make?

Ultimately, the work of Professor Clarke and Dr Eyre could help find ways to prevent or control the spread of breast cancer to the bone, and potentially save many lives. There are already drugs available that block IL 1β and parts of the survival mechanism it activates. Therefore, if their research is successful, treatments to control secondary breast cancer in the bone could be available quicker than having to develop new drugs.

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