Genetic clues aid breast cancer treatment

Genetic clues aid breast cancer treatment

Illuminate newsletter index page, June 2020
June 2020

Dr Najoua Lalaoui
Dr Najoua Lalaoui co-led research that identified the type
of breast cancer most likely to respond to Smac-mimetics. 

Institute researchers have revealed a ‘gene signature’ that predicts which breast cancers are most susceptible to a new drug class called ‘Smac-mimetics’.

The pre-clinical research was led by Institute researchers Dr Najoua Lalaoui, Professor John Silke, Professor Jane Visvader and Professor Geoff Lindeman.

Smac-mimetic challenge

Smac-mimetics are targeted therapies mimicking a naturally occurring protein that causes cells to die.

Dr Lalaoui said some Smac-mimetics, including the drug birinapant, had entered clinical trials as potential new anti-cancer therapies.

“While birinapant appears to be safe, and has entered phase 2 clinical trials, the challenge is predicting which breast cancer patients will respond to the drug."

"Working with Institute bioinformaticians we discovered genetic clues in breast cancer cells that can predict whether the cells would be killed by Smac-mimetics,” she said.

Targeting aggressive disease

The finding led the teams to uncover that triple negative breast cancers, which account for around 15 per cent of breast cancers in Australia, were especially likely to respond to Smac-mimetics.

Professor Lindeman said better treatment options were urgently needed for women with relapsed triple negative breast cancer.

“It would be great to see clinical trials of Smac-mimetics aimed at treating this clinically aggressive form of the disease,” he said.

Super Content: 
Animation still

This animation from WEHI.TV visualises research published in Nature Medicine in 2009 by Professor Jane Visvader and Professor Geoff Lindeman.

Video 1:06 

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