A simple blood test can now determine if a woman with triple-negative breast cancer will respond to the chemotherapy drug, doxorubicin.
QIMR Berghofer researchers conducted a study that found doxorubicin failed to kill breast cancer cells in women with high levels of a protein, known as prion, in their blood.
The Tumour Microenvironment laboratory discovered that prion binds to doxorubicin, which prevents the drug from invading and fighting cancer cells.
The lab’s Head, Associate Professor Andreas Möller, said drug resistance was a serious problem for cancer patients.
‘The ability to know if a patient will respond to a treatment is a huge advantage in fighting the disease,’ Associate Professor Möller said.
The study examined the analysis of blood samples of about 30 triple-negative breast cancer patients.
This comparison yielded interesting results as it determined that women with high levels of prion did better if they were prescribed the alternate chemotherapy, epirubicin.
Associate Professor Adrian Wiegmans, who also worked on the three-year study, explained the study outcomes.
‘We were able to correlate the patient history of what chemotherapy drug they were given with the prion levels in their blood,’ Associate Professor Wiegmans said.
‘If they were treated with doxorubicin and had high levels of prion, they didn’t do as well,’ he said.
Associate Professor Möller said the abundance of prion protein did not negate the effectiveness of epirubicin, so doctors could instead choose that as the first treatment option.
‘If you can prevent someone receiving therapy that won’t work, that’s a really good thing,’ Associate Professor Möller said.
The study, funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council and supported by the Brisbane Breast Bank, has wider implications for triple-negative breast cancer patients because chemotherapy resistance drives the recurrence and further spread of cancer.
‘We hope that in the future, triple-negative breast cancer patients will be screened for this protein when they are diagnosed to help guide what treatment should be offered,’ he said.
Triple-negative breast cancer is particularly aggressive and accounts for approximately 15 per cent of all cases of breast cancer.
Fundraising ride in progress
QIMR Berghofer is honoured to have a special supporter and fundraiser in David Hassum.
Our regular readers may remember reading about David and his beloved partner Veronica ‘Vee’ Best in our last LIFELAB edition.
David tragically lost Vee to triple-negative breast cancer in January 2019.
Vee remained positive throughout her cancer battle and appeared to be winning the battle in September 2018. However the cancer metastasized and returned in late 2018.
Unfortunately, relapse is not uncommon.
‘Women who relapse with triple-negative breast cancer have a terrible prognosis of less than six months survival, so the ability to predict which patients will gain from treatment is the goal for all doctors,’ Associate Professor Wiegmans said.
In memory of Vee’s adventurous spirit, David has embarked on a solo ride to conquer a 1800 km northern stretch of the famous Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR) in North America.
David is currently in the middle of his charity ride. The ride started in Banff, Canada and will finish in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, USA – the same distance as riding from Cairns to Byron Bay!
David’s goal is to raise $180 000 — $100 for every kilometre he rides. He is fundraising for triple-negative breast cancer research at QIMR Berghofer. Associate Professors Andreas Möller and Michele Teng will be the beneficiaries, and the support will allow them to continue their vital research on triple-negative breast cancer.