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New Breast Cancer Research Partnership funds three projects

New Breast Cancer Research Partnership funds three projects

The Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) is pleased to announce funding for three innovative research projects which share the goal of improving and ultimately ensuring breast cancer survival in New Zealand.

These projects have been funded through the Breast Cancer Research in New Zealand initiative, which is a joint partnership between the Breast Cancer Research Trust, the New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation, and the HRC.

New Zealand has one of the highest rates of breast cancer in the world – over 660 women lose their lives to breast cancer each year and more than 2000 New Zealand women are diagnosed with oestrogen receptor positive breast cancer each year.

Despite a relatively good prognosis and improvements in survival brought about by early detection and anti-oestrogen therapy, oestrogen receptor positive breast cancer still kills more women than any other type of breast cancer. Dr Anita Dunbier and her research team at the University of Otago have previously found that women with high levels of immune cells within their tumours have poorer outcomes. To find ways to improve the response of these tumours to therapy, they are now aiming to trial a short treatment of the common anti-inflammatory drug aspirin together with standard anti-oestrogen therapy. The goal will be to determine whether administering these two drugs together decreases the number of immune cells entering the tumour and the rate at which the tumour grows.

Dr Dong-Xu Liu from the University of Auckland is also investigating the fact that patients with oestrogen receptor positive breast cancer can fail to respond to anti-oestrogen treatments. Dr Liu and his research team have identified a novel protein called SHON, which plays an important role in breast cancer. They have shown that SHON protein expression in breast tumours predicts a favourable response to anti-oestrogen treatment. In this new research project they plan to generate a SHON-specific antibody and use it to analyse independent sets of breast cancer samples. The aim is to validate the use of SHON as a prognostic biomarker for predicting patient response to anti-oestrogen drugs.

Dr Jo Perry from the University of Auckland will lead a research project that seeks to discover and develop small molecule inhibitors of the growth hormone (GH) receptor and explore their use to treat breast cancer. Localised production of GH is detectable in a variety of different human cancers, including breast cancer, and this is associated with an increased risk of metastasis and reduced survival for breast cancer patients. In contrast, humans and animals born with a deficiency in the cell surface receptor for GH have a dramatically reduced, almost absent, risk of developing cancer. Consequently, inhibiting the action of GH is a promising strategy for treating breast cancer. The research team will use a specialised high-throughput assay to identify molecules that bind to the GH receptor and test these "hits" in biological assays to confirm efficacy and therapeutic potential.


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