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NUI Galway scientists make breakthrough in study of aggressive breast cancer

Posted on about 1 month ago by Laurentina Kennedy

NUI Galway scientists make breakthrough in study of aggressive breast cancer

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The research focuses on cell behaviour in triple negative breast cancer, for which there are no targeted therapies available, and accounts for about 15% of all breast cancers diagnosed, especially in younger women.

Scientists at NUI Galway have made a breakthrough finding in the field of breast cancer research.

The team at the Apoptosis Research Centre have discovered how cells related to one of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer can rewire themselves to have a better chance of surviving and spreading to other sites in the body.

The research focuses on cell behaviour in triple-negative breast cancer, for which there are no targeted therapies available, and accounts for about 15% of all breast cancers diagnosed, especially in younger women.

The findings have been published in the internationally renowned Nature Communications journal.

The Apoptosis Research Centre is the only cell Death Research Centre in Ireland. The goal of the centre is to understand how cancer cells have adapted to promote their own survival, and using this knowledge, to uncover new ways to combat cancer progression.

The team at NUI Galway, led by Professor Afshin Samali and Professor Adrienne Gorman, demonstrated how fast-growing tumours often lack what is required to grow and spread, but cancer cells can rewire their metabolism to compensate for this via specific behaviour known as the IRE1 stress response pathway.

This is achieved by altering the levels of a key enzyme in lipid metabolism, which then increases the resistance of triple-negative breast cancer cells to low nutrient conditions that often occur in the tumour.

Professor in Biochemistry, Adrienne Gorman, said the breakthrough means “we are getting ever closer to understanding the intricacies of cancer”. Picture: PA Photo/ Generic

Reversed Resistance

The research also shows how this resistance can be reversed through the use of specialised drugs inhibiting IRE1.

Afshin Samali, Professor of Cancer Biology and Director of the Apoptosis Research Centre at NUI Galway, said it is “hugely exciting to identify new therapeutic target for triple-negative breast cancer”.

“The new era of precision oncology aims to tailor treatments to individual cancer patients,” Professor Samali added.

“Our previous research showed that inhibition of IRE1 improves the effectiveness of chemotherapy and reduces relapse of this highly aggressive form of breast cancer.

“What our research also shows is that targeting IRE1, or switching off the response mechanism of IRE1, could be particularly beneficial for the many patients whose cancer cells rely on the specific metabolic reprogramming it induces.” 

Professor in Biochemistry, Adrienne Gorman, said the breakthrough means “we are getting ever closer to understanding the intricacies of cancer”.

“Identifying new therapeutic targets such as IRE1 that are part of the tumour’s support system is very significant in offering another way to combat cancer.” 

Dr Katarzyna Mnich, one of the research team at NUI Galway, said: “This work has uncovered a previously unknown role for IRE1 in triple-negative breast cancer and it shows we need further investigation into the biology of IRE1.

“Most importantly for patients, the research also supports further development of IRE1 inhibitors as therapeutics for the treatment of triple-negative breast cancer.” 

The study was funded by Science Foundation Ireland and the EU under the Horizon 2020 programme.