New tool may predict chemo effectiveness

Irish research centres on aggressive breast cancer
  • Deborah Condon

Irish scientists have developed a tool which may in the future be able to predict how effective chemotherapy is likely to be when treating a specific type of aggressive breast cancer.

According to the Irish Cancer Society (ICS), which funded the research, this means that in years to come, doctors may be able to spare some patients the harsh effects of chemotherapy.

The tool works for triple-negative breast cancer, which is often aggressive and difficult to treat. This disease is diagnosed in around 250 people every year in Ireland and it tends to occur more often in younger women.

Currently, chemotherapy is the only form of drug treatment available to patients with triple-negative breast cancer. It works by killing cancer cells in the body, but some people's cancer cells do not respond as well as others to chemotherapy. This means that they have to suffer the harsh side-effects of the treatment without the desired outcome.

However, scientists at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) in Dublin have identified a mathematical formula on cells with triple negative breast cancer, to predict how effective this treatment would be at killing them.

By using their formula in the lab, the scientists now predict that triple negative breast cancer cells may respond to a new drug already being used to treat some leukaemia patients.

According to Dr Robert O'Connor, head of cancer research at the ICS, this research highlights the vital work being undertaken to identify new ways to improve cancer treatment.

"This research is in quite early stages and it will be many more years until any potential benefits reach cancer patients. But it does show the building blocks required to lay the foundations for life-saving cancer research. The more we understand this disease, the better chance we have of stopping it in its tracks," he explained.

Prof Jochen Prehn of the RCSI, who supervised the research, pointed out that if successful in further testing, ‘our research may one day allow doctors to give women more tailored and effective treatments, and spare the harsh side-effects of chemotherapy in women who are unlikely to respond well to it'.

These findings were recently published in the journal Cell Death and Disease. The scientists are now continuing this research by testing their formula in more advanced breast cancer models in the laboratory. This will help to fine-tune their work to potentially make it suitable for patient trials.

The RCSI team are working as part of the ICS cancer research centre, BREAST-PREDICT, which is a country-wide collaboration between experts in this disease.

This virtual centre is funded solely by donations to the ICS, which has committed a five-year investment of €7.5 million to the project.

This week, the ICS's biggest annual fundraiser, Daffodil Day, takes place and Dr O'Connor is urging people to donate.

"The ICS can only invest in vital research because of the public's generous support. We currently fund more than 100 researchers across Ireland and have spent €25 million on life-saving cancer research since 2010. To continue doing this, we need everyone to get involved in Daffodil Day on Friday, March 23. Your support saves lives," he said.

You can volunteer to help out or donate at You can also text ‘Daff' to 50300 to donate €4. Text costs €4. The ICS will receive a minimum of €3.60.

For more information on BREAST-PREDICT, click here


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