New technique ‘tags and tracks’ breast cancer spread

New technique ‘tags and tracks’ breast cancer spread

Illuminate newsletter index page, March 2019
March 2019

L-R: Dr Shalin Naik, Professor Jane Visvader, Dr Tom
Weber and Dr Delphine Merino led the study.

Most deaths from breast cancer are caused by the spread – or metastasis – of cancerous cells from the main tumour site into other organs.

A challenge for effective treatment of the disease is that breast cancer tumours consist of thousands of different cell variants that may or may not play a role in metastasis. It is very difficult to know which cells are the nasty ‘seeders’ of the disease.

Pinpointing cells responsible

In a new study, Institute researchers have revealed how cutting-edge cellular ‘barcoding’ is able to tag, track and pinpoint the seeders responsible for the spread of breast cancer.

Dr Delphine Merino, Dr Tom Weber, Professor Jane Visvader and Dr Shalin Naik led the research.

Dr Merino said the ability to pinpoint the ‘clones’ – subpopulations of cells arising from an original patient tumour – responsible for the spread of cancer was crucial for improving treatments.

“Our study revealed the select few seeder clones responsible for the metastasis,” she said.

The technique also revealed how chemotherapy temporarily shrinks the number of harmful cells, rather than eliminating them, explaining how the cancer could eventually relapse.

The power to focus research

Dr Naik said the new technique meant researchers could go from studying thousands of clones, to homing in on the select few variants responsible.

“Now that we know which of the clones are spreading the cancer, we can focus our research to block their activity.”

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