NUI Galway scientists make breast cancer breakthrough

25 Apr 2016

Researchers from NUI Galway have made a breakthrough in their studies into breast cancer treatment, which could affect a significant segment of sufferers of the disease.

Led by Drs Sanjeev and Ananya Gupta in NUI Galway, the paper published in Oncogene hones in on a single protein that plays a pivotal role for certain sufferers of breast cancer, those who are ‘oestrogen receptor positive’.

XBP1 is the protein in question, with Sanjeev and his team establishing that it increases the production of NCOA3, which helps the cancer cells avoid anti-oestrogen treatment. Using this information, the suggestion is treatment that uses an XBP1 inhibitor could help oestrogen treatment get the job done.

Oestrogen (and progesterone) are in abundance in women’s bodies, potentially serving as fuel for cancerous cells. Hormone therapy, also called endocrine therapy, adds, blocks, or removes those chemicals to treat the disease.

The NUI Galway team claims one-third of breast cancer patients treated with hormonal therapy suffer a relapse within 15 years, which has proved difficult to understand for scientists. Cancer cells’ reliance on XBP1 as a shield could, therefore, be used against them by allowing tailored inhibitors to pull down the cancer’s defences.

Ananya Gupta said: “The next step is to identify a suitable therapeutic target in the XBP1-NCOA3 pathway. XBP1 is a transcription factor, and transcription factors have been very difficult to target with small molecules. We look forward to developing new ways to target this molecule in breast cancer.”

The project was supported by Breast Cancer Now, with the organisation’s Dr Richard Berks hopeful of potential improvements to anti-hormone treatments.

“We look forward to further research to find out whether blocking this protein could reduce the risk of a patient’s breast cancer spreading or returning, ultimately helping to stop women dying from the disease. It’s crucial that we continue to find ways to make breast cancer therapies even more effective, and match individual patients with the treatments most likely to work for them.”

Mammogram image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic