Surprisingly enough, research began with examining breast cancer samples. This is because when the disease becomes metastatic mutated cells often travel to the brain where they become particularly aggressive and generally incurable.
Scientists at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) have noticed that genetic switches that activate the RET protein, common in breast cancers that later migrated towards the brain, play a key role in this process.
Prof Leonie Young is spearheading trials that try to suppress the production of RET or inhibit it all together. Current tests involve mice, however, similar drugs are already evaluated for the treatment of lung and thyroid cancers.
“Professor Young’s vital research could pave the way for trials of new treatments to control breast cancer that has spread to the brain. Not only is secondary breast cancer incurable, but when tumours spread to the brain, the side-effects can be extremely debilitating. We urgently need to develop new treatments to give these patients more time to live, and to help improve their quality of life”, noted Dr. Simon Vincent, director of Breast Cancer Now, a charity that donated over €200,000 so that the team can continue investigations.
A large proportion of women diagnosed with breast cancer will experience their disease spreading. This can seriously impact the quality of life, due to symptoms such as headaches, seizures, mood/behaviour changes, vomiting and uncoordinated movement.
Successful testing could improve and prolong the lives of countless people living with these disease.