Treating the Spread of Breast Cancer to Save Lives
A fascination with biology and a personal connection to cancer has inspired breast cancer researcher Aneta Zysk to pursue a career in medical research.
“My uncle suffered with colorectal cancer – when he was diagnosed they only gave him six weeks to live and he didn’t even make it that long,” recalled Aneta.
“I saw the suffering and pain that he and his family went through and it reinforced to me that I wanted to help people suffering with cancer through my work.”
Making it Happen
As part of the Breast Cancer Research Unit at the Basil Hetzel Institute for Translational Health Research, Aneta is looking at how we can use the body’s immune system to fight breast cancer which has spread to the bone. 75% of patients with advanced stage breast cancer will have developed metastases into the bone and this spread of the cancer is what causes patient mortality most of the time.
“There is a rare population of immune cells within our blood called gamma delta T-cells that can specifically target cancer cells.”
“As there are not normally enough of these cells in the human body to kill cancer, I’m working on isolating these cells in the lab and growing them to increase their numbers.”
In an exciting finding, Aneta has seen, when used in vivo, these cells travel directly to cancer in the bone.
“We know from previous research that these cells have cancer-killing properties in vitro, so this indicates they will most likely be successful at killing cancer cells in vivo,” said Aneta.
Equipment Making It Possible
Aneta is using a state-of-the- art IVIS Spectrum In Vivo Imaging Machine to undertake her project, which was purchased with the help of Australian Breast Cancer Research last year. This exciting project would not have been possible without it.
“Because I am looking at breast cancer when it has spread into the bone, we physically can’t use the typical instruments researchers’ use when measuring tumour size in vivo.”
“So what I do is tag the cancer cells so they emit light and the amount of light we can see with the machine is proportional to the size of the tumour – if there is a decrease in light then we know the tumour size is decreasing.”
So far using this technique, Aneta has found that the cells can slow down cancer growth in the bone and decrease the spread to other parts of the body like the lungs.
“The next step for my work will be to increase their natural cancer killing properties by using them in combination with other therapies so they can kill cancer even more effectively.”
“It’s exciting work and I am very pleased to be a part of what could be a potentially life-saving treatment for people with breast cancer, and other cancers which spread to the bone.”
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