Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, in partnership with the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, has made an exciting breakthrough into better understanding of triple negative breast cancer – the discovery of four new cell sub-types within the cancer. This research, which was supported through philanthropy and recently published in The EMBO Journal, contains promising information for more effective treatments for this aggressive cancer.
Not only is triple negative breast cancer aggressive, it is notoriously difficult to treat. This is because it lacks the three receptors (for oestrogen, progesterone and the HER2 protein) that make other breast cancers responsive to treatment. Of the 18,000 Australian women diagnosed with breast cancer every year, around 15% of them will have the triple negative sub-type. There are currently no targeted therapies specifically to treat this cancer and keep it from spreading to other parts of the body.
Our breast cancer research team have been working to change this by examining the genetic makeup of this cancer through ‘single cell sequencing’ of tumour samples collected from patients. Single cell sequencing is a powerful technology that enables researchers to examine how thousands, or even millions of individual cells operate within the micro-environment of a tumour, to discover the ‘culprit’ that makes the cancer resistant to treatment.
The researchers sequenced over 24,000 individual cells from samples of five patients and made an amazing discovery – what we once thought of as one cell type in triple negative breast cancer is actually four different sub-types, which all interact differently with the molecules in their surrounding environment. The team found that one sub-type in particular interacts with the body’s immune system in a way that can make immunotherapy – a common treatment for triple negative breast cancer – ineffective. This discovery alone will have a significant impact on how we tailor treatments for patients in the future.
“We are grateful to the donors who have helped to enable this research that has significantly expanded our knowledge and understanding of triple negative breast cancer,” says Dr Mun Hui, Medical Oncologist and Research Fellow involved in the project. “Thanks to philanthropic support, we are now closer than ever to developing novel therapies that will more effectively treat our patients and ultimately save lives.”