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Can you imagine being diagnosed with a type of cancer that has no targeted treatments? This could change thanks to researchers at the Basil Hetzel Institute for Translational Health Research (BHI) who are working hard to investigate possible treatments for triple negative breast cancer.

Triple negative breast cancers are harder to treat than other types of breast cancer because they lack the three receptors that usually serve as targets for anti-cancer drugs. Triple negative breast cancers make up 15 per cent of all breast cancer diagnoses, and the chances of surviving are lower than for other breast cancer types.

PhD student Joseph (Joe) Wrin knows the heartbreaking impact breast cancer brings after losing his beloved wife Leeanne to this devastating disease. Thanks to your support, The Hospital Research Foundation in partnership with Australian Breast Cancer Research is funding Joe, working under the supervision of Associate Professor Wendy Ingman to investigate new possible treatment methods.

Joe and A/Prof Ingman’s research evolved from previous studies exploring how immune system cells called macrophages function during a woman’s menstrual cycle, which A/Prof Ingman explains can play a role in a woman’s breast cancer risk.

“We developed the idea that the immune system has different roles during times of a woman’s menstrual cycle and there may be a window of breast cancer risk that opens up at a particular stage of the cycle,” A/Prof Ingman said.

This research led to the discovery that a protein made by macrophages, called C1q, guides the immune system towards tolerance of breast cancer cells.

“We’ve discovered C1q is an important protein in helping cancer evade an immune system attack, allowing the cancer to progress,” A/Prof Ingman said.

“As triple negative breast cancer doesn’t have a targeted treatment, our approach is to develop an antibody that prevents the action of C1q that can be used together with radiotherapy or chemotherapy, to help break immune tolerance to the breast cancer.”

Being a research assistant for over 30 years and now undertaking his PhD with a focus on saving lives from breast cancer, Joe has become instrumental in this research.

“C1q promotes an immune tolerant environment in the breast during a woman’s menstrual cycle which unfortunately makes the breast vulnerable to cancer growth. I am hopeful my PhD can lead to a novel cancer treatment that will end the heartache women and their loved ones experience from breast cancer,” Joe explained.

This is an exciting development for the team as their research could potentially lead to treatments for all breast cancers.

“I’ve met some wonderful amazingly strong women who are trying to look after their family and dealing with breast cancer, sometimes terminal breast cancer. It motivates me to continue working to stop the heartbreak from this terrible disease,” said A/Prof Ingman.

We look forward to updating you on A/Prof Ingman and Joe’s progress as they continue their vital research into triple negative breast cancer.

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