The Fight to Beat Triple Negative Breast Cancer
Head of the Cell Signalling Laboratory at the Centre for Cancer Biology (CCB), Associate Professor Yeesim Khew-Goodall is leading a crucial research project focused on overcoming resistance to cancer therapy, particularly in triple negative breast cancer.
Triple negative breast cancer is one of the most heartbreaking forms of breast cancer. These patients are currently treated by chemotherapy but there is no guarantee of success – and unfortunately for patients that fail chemotherapy the survival rate remains only 12 months. Sadly, unlike the other breast cancer types, there are currently no targeted therapies for triple negative breast cancer in patients who fail chemotherapy.
This is why it’s so important to support a variety of different research projects that have one main goal, to find a targeted treatment for triple negative breast cancer and improve outcomes for women diagnosed with the devastating disease.
“The breast cancers for which we currently have targeted therapy available have either oestrogen and/or progesterone receptors or have amplification of HER2 receptors, which the breast cancer is dependent on to grow. There are now drugs available that specifically target these receptors and effectively kill the cancer,” A/Prof Khew-Goodall explained.
“The trouble with triple negative breast cancer is the only treatment available is standard chemotherapy, and after that there is nothing else they can do for these patients. While some patients may respond very well to chemotherapy, others don’t respond at all and some will respond well but then their cancer comes back and their body has developed resistance to the chemotherapy.”
The world-class team at the CCB have discovered a gene and entire signalling pathway that could play a critical role in helping not only triple negative breast cancer but also other metastatic cancers become resistant to treatment and spread rapidly. Now with the support of Australian Breast Cancer Research (ABCR) in partnership with The Hospital Research Foundation (THRF), the team can pursue this vital work.
“We predict that this pathway makes the cancer cells tougher and more capable of surviving the harsher conditions that occur when cancer metastasises.
“We are still at the early stages, but this funding from ABCR and partner THRF will allow us to continue working out what this pathway is doing and allow us to pinpoint exactly which cancers turn on this pathway and the properties that they have to turn it on.”
Once A/Prof Khew-Goodall has proved this pathway plays a role in triple negative breast cancer, the next stop will be looking at a treatment that blocks the action of this pathway to ultimately create a new therapy for the devastating disease.
“Thanks to the funding from ABCR and THRF we’ll be able to validate the role this pathway plays, which we anticipate can lead us towards developing a drug.
“We are also hoping that by understanding how this pathway works we will be able to come up with ways to identify the particular group of triple negative breast cancer patients that will be harder to treat or prone to the development of a secondary tumour. This could help doctors determine if a patient’s cancer is likely to spread to other areas of their body.”