13th June 2016
Scientists in Britain have found a way to slow the growth of aggressive forms of breast cancer, according to recent research from Cancer Research UK.
The team of people are from Oxford University and the University of Nottingham and found that by using the drug JQ1, it can alter the way in which cancer cells respond to low oxygen. This tends to occur in over 50 per cent of breast tumours and most often in triple negative breast cancer, which is the most difficult form to treat.
Triple negative breast cancers don't have receptors for oestrogen, progesterone or Her2. As a result, they don't respond to treatments such as tamoxifen or Herceptin, which are often used to treat other types of breast cancer. Around 15 out of every 100 breast cancers (15 per cent) are triple negative, an unfortunately large number.
However, the BET inhibitor drug JQ1 can help by stopping cancer cells adapting in response to a lack of oxygen by slowing the growth of tumours. It also helps to limit the amount of blood vessels that are produced.
When breast cancer cells have difficulty in receiving oxygen, it means that the illness is much harder to treat.
Low levels of oxygen force tumour cells to turn on genes that send signals for new blood vessels to bring fresh oxygen to them, which allows the tainted cells to grow and spread throughout the body.
Dr Alan McIntyre, co-author of the study from the University of Nottingham, said: "Triple negative breast cancer is a challenge. By tackling hypoxia that so often compromises the treatment of breast cancers, JQ1 could be an important key to helping women with aggressive breast tumours."
The study looked into explaining how drugs like JQ1 work, shedding light on the role medicines like this could play in hypoxia. This could be vital in helping patients who have hard-to-treat breast cancers.
Although the groups of drugs, known as bromodomain and extraterminal (BET) inhibitors, have been used to treat other cancers, the breakthrough that the study uncovered is that JQ1 can be used for interrupting hypoxia.
Neil Barrie, Cancer Research UK's senior science communications manager, commented: "This study has unearthed insights into how these drugs could be used to help treat triple negative breast cancer patients who urgently need better treatments.
"Interfering with the body's natural response to hypoxia, or low oxygen, could be a way to stop the spread of cancer. More studies should be carried out to measure how effective JQ1 could be in patients."
Breast Cancer Now also supported the study. One of the senior communications officers at the charity, Dr Richard Berks, agreed that this report uncovered a new way to "thwart" the process of cancer cells finding ways to oxygenise themselves with the help of new blood cells.
He added that this knowledge opens up more avenues and options for scientists to create new and better treatments for breast cancer.
Dr Berks summarised that, thanks to the evidence from the study, these BET inhibitors are not only performing well in clinical trials for other cancers, but they're also proving to be effective for aggressive forms of the illness.
He also impressed upon the urgency of finding better treatments for these triple negative forms of breast cancer, adding that by uncovering them this would be a "real step forward" in the prevention and treatment of cancer.
Posted by Edward Bartel
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