DCU-led blood test study could boost breast cancer treatment

8 Aug 2023

Image: © chompoo/Stock.adobe.com

It is hoped that this type of blood test could help inform medical professionals about the best form of treatment for breast cancer patients.

Scientists in Dublin City University (DCU) claim to have developed a preliminary blood test that can predict the effectiveness of breast cancer treatments.

The researchers conducted a clinical trial on patients with early-stage HER2 positive breast cancer. HER2 is a protein that helps cancer cells to grow and roughly 20pc of all breast cancers are HER2 positive.

Various drugs have been developed that target HER2 to stop the growth of cancer cells. The purpose of the DCU-led study was to find biomarkers that would predict how effective a certain drug would be for specific patients. The trial involved 88 patients from 11 hospitals across Ireland, with collaboration from University College Dublin, Trinity College Dublin and the RCSI.

Dr Denis Collins, principal investigator for DCU’s Cancer Biotherapeutics Research Group, explained how this could lead to more precise treatments for breast cancer patients.

“If doctors know in advance that a patient will not respond well to a first-choice therapy, they would have the option of putting that patient on a different treatment to improve their chances of responding,” Collins said. “Or if no other treatments are approved, the patient could be enrolled in a trial of a new therapy.”

In the new study published in the British Journal of Cancer, Collins’ team tested chemotherapy drugs Carboplatin and Taxotere, along with HER2-targeting therapies Herceptin and Tyverb. Blood samples were taken from patients before and after treatment.

The team was looking for changes in the activity and composition of anti-cancer immune cells in the blood due to treatment. They also looked for differences between patients who had no cancer remaining after treatment and those that still had cancer.

The researchers said their blood test uses a patient’s white blood cells with the cancer-treatment drug Keytruda to identify patients who would not respond well to therapy.

Collins said more samples and studies will be required to confirm the preliminary findings in this paper, but noted that the results could form “the basis of a future blood test” to help doctors make better decisions on treatment strategies.

“We are actively seeking collaborators to further develop this test for patient use,” Collins said. “These kinds of national cancer trials in Ireland are essential to ensure access to cutting edge drugs for Irish cancer patients and provide samples for scientists to find new tests and treatments to improve patient outcomes in the future.”

Meanwhile, a trial involving more than 80,000 women in Sweden suggests that doctors can use AI to greatly improve their chances of accurate breast cancer detection during routine mammogram screenings.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic