Five breakthroughs advancing breast cancer therapies

Wear it Pink

Not only is October Breast Cancer Awareness Month but October 21 is Wear it Pink 2022, Breast Cancer Now’s annual fundraising day.

While advances in treatment over the last few years have resulted in good overall survival rates for patients with non-metastatic disease (90% five-year survival rate in the US1), outcomes are still poor in certain cancers that do not respond to standard therapies.

The last month has seen a number of leaps in our understanding of difficult to treat and treatment resistant breast cancers, so here are Drug Discovery World’s top five research breakthroughs.

  1. 3D bioprinted breast cancer tumours

In a scientific first, researchers at Penn State successfully 3D bioprinted breast cancer tumours and treated them. The advance could mean that future development of anti-cancer therapies won’t require the use of animal models.

Ibrahim Ozbolat, Professor of Engineering Science and Mechanics, Biomedical Engineering and Neurosurgery, Penn State, explained how their work will impact cancer research: “We’ve developed a tool that serves as a clinical test platform to safety and accurately evaluate experimental therapies. It is also a research platform for immunologists and biologists to understand how the tumour grows, how it interacts with human cells, and how it metastasises and spreads in the body.”

Read the full story: Researchers 3D bioprint breast cancer tumors, treat them in groundbreaking study

  1. New target for hard-to-treat breast cancer

A new drug target was identified for triple-negative breast cancer, a very difficult to treat type of breast cancer that mostly affects younger women. Triple-negative breast cancer cells can develop resistance to the chemotherapy drug doxorubicin. A team at Louisiana State University found that combining the drug with novel small inhibitory molecule NSC33353 led to a significant suppression of cell proliferation, migration and invasion.

“The discovery of new drugs will be of immense help for TNBC patients,” said Dr Suresh Alahari, Professor of Biochemistry at LSU Health New Orleans’ Schools of Medicine and Graduate Studies. “Our data indicate that the small molecule inhibitor, NSC33353, exhibits anti-tumour activity in TNBC cells and works in a synergistic fashion with a well-known chemotherapeutic agent.”

  1. Advances in understanding treatment resistant cancer cells (part 1)

New research has identified immune targets for chemotherapy-resistant breast cancers. The research sheds light on the function of immune cells in these patients and will help future studies to enhance the anti-cancer immune response in breast cancer.

Lead author Dr Sheeba Irshad, Cancer Research UK Clinician Scientist from The School of Cancer & Pharmaceutical Sciences at King’s College London, commented: “In order to find the right targets for drug developments, it’s important to have a deep understanding of the complex mechanisms that allow some cancer cells to resist treatment, then hide from our immune system to only re-emerge later when they’re harder to eradicate.

“Our work has identified several cell types that would be worth investigating further to understand how they are interacting with the resistant cancer cell and how we can tweak that for our benefit.”

Read the full story: Immune targets identified for chemo-resistant breast cancers

  1. Advances in understanding treatment resistant cancer cells (part 2)

Earlier this month, Spanish researchers discovered how to overcome a treatment resistance mechanism in one of the most aggressive types of breast cancer. Their research revealed that, in HER2+ breast cancer, TGF-beta-activated fibroblasts block the effects of monoclonal antibody trastuzumab and protect the tumour. They also showed that targeting the fibroblast-expressed FAP molecules with immunotherapy reverses this ability to prevent access by immune cells.

“When this molecule, FAP-IL2v, is added to a tumour recreated ex vivo that contains this treatment-resistant microenvironment, in contact with immune cells, trastuzumab’s effectiveness is restored,” states Dr Alexandre Calon, Head of the Translational Research in Tumour Microenvironment Laboratory, IMIM-Hospital del Mar.

Read the full story: Researchers discover how to overcome a treatment resistance mechanism in one of the most aggressive types of breast cancer

  1. Discovery of invasive dormant cancer cells

Towards the end of September, scientists from Chicago and California identified a type of breast cancer cell that can cause metastatic cancer in patients who have been cancer-free for years. The sneaky cells are highly efficient in invading and colonising distant organs and slow their growth once there to evade therapies.

“Our findings emphasise the importance of considering phenotypic changes that could occur when treating cancer cells with therapeutic strategies that target proliferating cells such as chemotherapy,” said Jose Javier Bravo-Cordero, Associate Professor of Medicine, The Tisch Cancer Institute, Mount Sinai. 

“Our studies suggest that more selective therapeutic strategies combining treatments against both dividing cells and invasive dormant cells may be necessary to prevent metastatic disease,” he added.

Read the full story: Breast cancer cells ‘regulate their own metastases’.

Reference

  1. https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/breast-cancer/statistics 

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