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Funding for research into new wave of breast cancer drugs

Monday 4 August 2014

Funding awarded for research into new wave of breast cancer drugs

University of Otago research aimed at developing drugs that are selectively lethal to cancer cells is one of two newly funded innovative projects which share the goal of improving and ultimately ensuring breast cancer survival in New Zealand.

Professor Parry Guilford of the Department of Biochemistry has gained about $200,000 from the Breast Cancer Research Partnership for a two-year project he is leading, titled “Synthetic lethal targeting of lobular breast cancer”.

Lobular breast cancer is the second most common type of the disease.

Healthy cells produce E-cadherin, a protein that suppresses tumour growth, but the gene that produces E-cadherin is often ‘switched off’ in cancer cells. Professor Guilford and his team are searching for compounds that will destroy cells lacking E-cadherin, but not healthy cells with normal levels of the protein.

The team is collaborating with the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, in Melbourne, to screen for drugs active against this target. The researchers predict that these new drugs will produce fewer side effects than standard chemotherapies.

This project was originally submitted to the Breast Cancer Research in New Zealand initiative, which is a joint funding partnership between Breast Cancer Cure Research Trust, The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation and the Health Research Council.

Project description:

Synthetic lethal targeting of lobular breast cancer

24 months, $199,792 (funded by the HRC, Breast Cancer Cure and The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation)

The inactivation of tumour suppressor genes is the most common of all genetic events in cancer but not one that can be targeted by conventional therapy, because the tumour suppressor protein is lost from the cancer cell. However, the loss of these genes is predicted to create vulnerabilities in the cancer cell that can nevertheless be targeted with drugs.

Professor Guilford will use existing data showing that the loss of the tumour suppressor gene CDH1, an event that is a hallmark of the lobular subtype of breast cancer, creates vulnerabilities which can be targeted with drugs. He will lead a research project that will develop new breast cancer treatments which exploit these vulnerabilities.

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