Researchers from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne, Australia this week announced that a new anti-cancer compound shows promise in treating a common type of breast cancer. The compounds, known as BH3-mimetics, have been shown to be effective in treating oestrogen receptor-positive breast cancers, which around 70% of breast cancers are. The research has been published in the journal Cancer Cell.
“We are excited by these results and what they could mean for women with breast cancer,” said Jane Visvader, a member of the research team and the co-head of the breast cancer laboratory at the Hall Institute. “ER-positive breast cancers are the most common type of breast cancer, so even a small improvement could have a substantial impact if more effective upfront treatment could prevent relapse. It is very early days, however, and the findings will need to be rigorously tested in clinical studies.”
According to Visvader and her colleagues, BH3-mimetics combined with cancer drug tamoxifen works to neutralize a protein in cancer cells called BCL-2, a protein that helps make the cells immortal. By blocking the protein, the drug helps to make the cancer cells more susceptible to dying. The study was performed using breast tumor samples donated by Melbourne women. The BH3-mimetic used in the research was shown to stop or delay the growth of aggressive ER-positive "luminal B" cancers. Researchers are now hoping that clinical trials on the treatment will begin soon.
“Australian women who donated their tumour samples for research helped make this discovery possible,” said Geoff Lindeman, the other co-head of the breast cancer lab at the Hall Institute. “It would be great to see Australians among the first to benefit from clinical trials, should they proceed.”
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