NUI Galway student receives prize for Irish breast cancer research

26 Apr 2016

NUI Galway PhD Student, Úna McVeigh receives her prize at the Go Mini Scientific Challenge Program in New Orleans, via NUI Galway

$4,500 of cancer research equipment has been awarded to NUI Galway PhD student Úna McVeigh for her investigation into breast cancer prevalence on the west coast of Ireland.

Seeing off more than 1,000 competing submissions in the ‘Go Mini Scientific Challenge Program’ in the US, McVeigh will receive three sequencing runs on cutting-edge medical equipment to help further her research.

She will study the genetics of breast cancer in the population of the west of Ireland, specifically in women with a strong family history of the disease, to understand the role of genes other than BRCA1 and BRCA2 in cancer susceptibility.

McVeigh will use samples from NUI Galway’s biobank, aiming to identify the frequency of genetic variants, their effects on breast cancer risk, and the clinical utility of testing for them.

Invaluable tool

“Next-generation sequencing is an invaluable tool for identifying new cancer susceptibility genes,” she said, adding that she hopes to be able to validate new clinically-relevant variants that are potentially applicable in broader populations.

“Despite the discovery of BRCA1 and BRCA2, the majority of inherited predisposition to breast cancer remains unexplained. We hope our research can begin to identify new genetic drivers of breast cancer, so that one day better patient screening can improve health outcomes for populations with a genetic predisposition to the disease.”

Michael Kerin, NUI Galway’s professor of surgery, said McVeigh’s work will “add to the growing knowledge around inherited breast cancer risk”.

Breast cancer breakthrough

Yesterday, researchers from the same university 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, 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.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic