Did you know that by the end of this year, its predicted breast cancer will be the most prevalent cancer in Australia?

Despite this heartbreaking statistic, to date there is little treatment that can combat breast cancer that has metastasised or spread to other areas of the body. Sadly, this is because many patients become resistant to current treatments over time.

Thanks to the incredible generosity of one of our very special donors, Dr Margaret Elcombe, our researchers have been awarded the Elcombe Pre-Clinical Project Grant to pursue a very promising new treatment avenue for breast cancer that has spread which if successful would be far less toxic than current treatments.

Dr Jenny Hardingham and Dr Amanda Townsend from the Basil Hetzel Institute for Translational Health Research (BHI) are part of a world-class research team working on this project, alongside Dr Yoko Tomita, Professor Andrea Yool, Associate Professor Wendy Ingman, Professor Tim Price and Professor Andreas Evdokiou.

“We’re excited by the possibility of a new therapy for metastatic breast cancer without the toxicity of current therapeutic drug treatments,” Dr Hardingham said.

“For someone with metastatic breast cancer there are a reasonable number of treatment options but eventually sadly patients become resistant to them,” Dr Townsend added.

Through previous research into bowel cancer, the team has discovered a particular protein that also plays a crucial role in the growth of breast cancer and the spread of cancer to other areas of the body.

“A protein called Aquaporin 1, a water channel protein, has been proved to play a vital role in assisting breast cancer cells to move to other areas of the body,” Dr Hardingham explained.

“This discovery provoked the suggestion that if we inhibit or block the action of this protein this may lead to a new cancer therapy.”

Thanks to the Margaret Elcombe Research Fellowship, Dr Townsend and Dr Hardingham are now exploring the effectiveness of two different inhibitors that could block the action of this protein and in turn stop breast cancer from growing and also spreading.

“It was found that if we blocked this particular protein it stopped angiogenesis, which is the formation of new blood vessels. New blood vessels are crucial for supplying the cancer tumour with the nutrients and oxygen it needs to survive, so without angiogenesis the tumour would not be able to grow,” Dr Hardingham said.

“This angiogenic process is also crucial for providing blood vessel access to enable cancer tumour cells to metastasise to distant sites such as lung or bone.

“These are the first inhibitors world-wide that target the Aquaporin 1 water channel that is so important for angiogenesis and metastasis.”

If Dr Townsend and Dr Hardingham and their expert team can prove these inhibitors to be successful in helping to limit the growth and spread of metastatic breast cancer, the next step for this research will be a clinical trial.

“We’re looking at a new treatment that will be far less toxic then current chemotherapy treatments and have far fewer side effects. If we’re successful in pre-clinical studies, the next step will be a clinical trial for a new therapy for metastatic breast cancer,” Dr Townsend said.

The support of the Margaret Elcombe Research Fellowship will allow Dr Townsend, Dr Hardingham and the team to continue this vital research for three years, in the hopes of improving outcomes and saving the lives of women diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in the future.

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