The UK has some of the world’s leading scientists working on preventing and curing secondary breast cancer – but they need more money to do it.
With support from Future Dreams, Professor Clare Isacke and her team at the Breast Cancer Now Toby Robins Research Centre at the Institute of Cancer Research in London have made ground-breaking progress in understanding secondary breast cancer. Her team has discovered that aggressive breast cancer cells can ‘radicalise’ certain healthy cells by releasing a protein called Wnt7a. These radicalised healthy cells can then help breast cancer spread. So, finding ways to block the production of Wnt7a could make it much harder for breast cancer to spread and become incurable, and help to save lives.
Professor Isacke’s team has also found a new way to identify women at high risk of developing secondary breast cancer after initial treatment. The researchers found that if a certain set of genes become activated in breast tumours, they increase the risk of breast cancer returning and spreading around the body. In future, examining how active these genes are in a tumour could help doctors identify the women most at risk of their breast cancer coming back and spreading, and tailor their treatment to prevent this from happening.
Once scientists understand this they can concentrate on how to prevent it from happening.
Future Dreams has supported a Breast Cancer Now research project since 2017 led by Dr William Brackenbury at the University of York. He is working to understand what helps breast cancer cells spread around the body. Dr Brackenbury’s innovative research has the potential to bring us one step closer to being able to prevent secondary breast cancer and save lives.
Dr Brackenbury and his team are using an innovative technique to record electrical signals in breast cancer cells, which has never been used to study breast tumours before. They are using this technique to test if breast cancer cells generate electrical signals and if this helps them to move around the body. If successful, this work could eventually lead to the use of drugs that stop breast cancer cells from generating electrical signals and in turn, stop them invading other parts of the body.
The researchers have been making great progress with the project. Their experiments have indicated that the sodium levels (which can lead to electrical signals) inside cancer cells differ across the tumour. Researchers have found that they are higher than the levels found in healthy cells. Dr Brackenbury was also testing drugs that can stop sodium from entering cells to further understand the differences between healthy cells and breast cancer cells.
“We know that sodium levels are higher in breast tumours than healthy tissue and they may also help breast cancer to spread around the body. However, until now there has been no method to study this outside of the clinic, meaning that we know little about how this elevated sodium occurs and what subsequent effects it may have” said Dr Brackenbury.
His research project was due to finish in October 2020, but was severely delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Like most research labs in the country, Dr Brackenbury’s lab had to temporarily close to follow the lockdown rules. It meant all experiments in his lab had to be put on hold.
Breast Cancer Now, Future Dreams and researchers like Dr Brackenbury need your support, now more than ever, to make up for lost time.
Future Dreams partnered with University College Hospital, London to potentially identify more aggressive breast cancers
In 2019 Future Dreams funded a research project for a dedicated Breast Coil to perform hyperpolarised imaging, called hyperpolarised MRI. This coil would allow the examination of breast cancers in far greater detail. Some cancers are more active and aggressive than others and hyperpolarised imaging potentially allows the team to identify the most aggressive cancers and choose the best treatment plan at an early stage.
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If we all act now we believe that by 2050, everyone who develops breast cancer will live.
Sylvie and Danielle began Future Dreams with just £100. Since then we have raised over £6.5m. We couldn’t do any of this without you. Please donate, if we all act now we believe that by 2050 everyone who develops breast cancer will live.