A leading scientist from Birmingham has been awarded a grant of more than £200,000 by research charity Breast Cancer Now to study how a particular molecule called PRMT5 might be helping breast cancer stem cells survive – making tumours more likely to grow back after treatment.
Breast cancer stem cells are a rare group of cells inside breast tumours, which can help breast cancer to become resistant to drugs and return after treatment. Of the most common form of breast cancer – called ‘ER positive’ – about one in five cases recur within 10 years of treatment, so a greater understanding of breast cancer stem cells is needed in order to make treatments more effective and improve the chances of survival for patients.
Dr Clare Davies, based at the University of Birmingham, will lead a three-year project to investigate the role of the molecule PRMT5 in breast cancer stem cells, exploring how it helps breast tumours to grow and progress.
Dr Davies will first study whether removing PRMT5 stops breast tumours growing, using mice that have been implanted with breast cancer cells. She will also study whether PRMT5 is present in breast cancer stem cells from tumours donated by patients, and, using these alongside breast cancer stem cells that have been grown in the lab, she hopes to find out more precisely how the molecule helps the cells survive.
Dr Richard Berks, Senior Research Communications Officer at Breast Cancer Now, said:
“We urgently need to discover what causes breast cancer to return after treatment, and a greater understanding of breast cancer stem cells will be crucial to this progress.
“Dr Davies’ research could eventually lead to novel treatments that target breast cancer stem cells, something we hope will ultimately improve the chances of survival for women with breast cancer.”
In the West Midlands, more than 4,400 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, and over 1,000 women in the region sadly die of the disease every year.
Launched in June 2015 with the ambition of stopping women dying from the disease by 2050, Breast Cancer Now is the UK’s largest breast cancer charity, created by the merger of Breast Cancer Campaign and Breakthrough Breast Cancer.