£15,000 boost for breast cancer research

The University of Brighton has received a £15,000 grant to find a way to stop the body preventing some breast cancer treatments from working.

Scientists have discovered that some people have a gene variation that not only inhibits some cancer treatments but also increases the risk of cancer recurrence.

The new funding is from Team Verrico which supports cutting edge research into new or improved treatments for cancer. The volunteer charity is named after Anna Verrico, a mum of two who died from triple negative breast cancer in 2013. The national charity also supports poorly parents with second opinions in Harley Street and offers counselling to families affected by cancer.

The funding will explore the relationship between receptors on the surface of cells called ADRB2, and cancer. When someone is diagnosed with breast cancer the resulting stress releases adrenaline and noradrenaline hormones which bind to ADRB2 on the surface of the cancer cells. This can stop some cancer treatments, including chemotherapy, from working.

The University’s team comprises Dr Melanie Flint, Reader in Cancer Biology; Dr Caroline Garrett, Human Tissue Governance Manager; Dr Greg Scutt, Principal Lecturer; and Dr Andrew Overall, Senior Lecturer, all from the School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences.

Dr Flint, lead researcher, said: “Our team has recently shown that a common type of genetic variation in the gene that codes for the ADRB2 receptor can increase the risk of cancer recurrence in women with breast cancer treated with chemotherapy. This risk may be because the genetic variation changes how the receptor responds to stress hormones such as adrenaline and noradrenaline, potentially reducing the effects of chemotherapy.

“We are now going to validate our findings by analysing more patient samples to determine whether we can predict patients’ outcome based on the genetic variant. We will use gene editing to introduce the genetic variant into cells that can be grown in the laboratory.

“This would enable us to investigate whether drugs could be used to counteract the harmful effects of the variant, thereby supporting clinicians in predicting how well a patient will respond to chemotherapy and improving patient prognosis.”

Anna Verrico’s widow, Paul, who is a partner at global law firm Eversheds Sutherland and a trustee of the charity, added: “Working closely with our Chief Medical Officer, Professor Adrian Harris of Oxford University, Team Verrico evaluated a number of research proposals. We have worked previously with Dr Flint’s team and were once again impressed by the clarity of thought which permeates the research aims. We look forward to reading the final report at the conclusion of the process.”

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