New research into aggressive breast cancer

A Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research scientist’s ground breaking work to silence the genes that drive breast cancer growth could provide effective new ways to treat the most aggressive types of the disease. Pilar Blancafort

Associate Professor Pilar Blancafort, who is the Laboratory head of Cancer Epigenetics at the Harry Perkins Institute, is working on new therapies for breast cancer, focusing on treatments for triple negative breast cancer and luminal B breast cancer, which often have a poor prognosis.

Associate Professor Blancafort said her team was working on developing new therapies for breast cancer, focusing on treatments for triple negative breast cancer and luminal B breast cancer, subtypes of the disease which often have a poor prognosis.

“These tumours are often very aggressive and there aren’t effective targeted therapies for these patients at the moment,” she said. “Part of the drive that I personally have is to really target these types of tumours because they spread very quickly and often become resistant to treatment, so we must develop innovative and targeted strategies for these patients.”

Using information from the mapping of the cancer genome, Associate Professor Blancafort is targeting the main genetic drivers of these types of breast cancer.

“The idea is to manufacture proteins that change the properties of the genes that cause triple negative breast cancer – meaning that we permanently turn them off and kill the tumours,” she said.

Associate Professor Blancafort said tests in her laboratory had already shown that the manufactured proteins had a long-lasting effect on cancer genes. “The cancer genes stayed silent for many months and that was remarkable. That means the tumour didn’t come back.”

The work has the potential to lead to more specific treatments that has less impact on healthy tissue and therefore fewer side effects, she said.

Associate Professor Blancafort has received a Novel Concept Award from the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) to develop specific molecular approaches to permanently inhibit oncogenes, the genes that cause cancer and cancer spread.

NBCF Director, Research Investment, Dr Alison Butt, said developing more effective treatments for aggressive types of breast cancer is a key focus of the NBCF’s new round of research funding for 2014.

“To reach our aspirational goal of zero deaths from breast cancer by 2030, it is critical that we focus our research investment in the area of aggressive types of breast cancer, like triple negative disease – what causes it and how best to treat it,” Dr Butt said.

Professor Blancafort is currently an Australian Research Council (ARC) Future fellow and a Cancer Council of Western Australia Research Fellow and is also from the University of Western Australia.

Click here to watch a GWN News interview with Pilar.

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