Nav: Home

New treatment hope for women with BRCA1 breast cancers

June 07, 2017

Researchers have found a new way to use immunotherapy, a breakthrough mode of cancer treatment which harnesses the patient's immune system, to treat an aggressive form of breast cancer.

The researchers at Melbourne's Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre have shown, for the first time, that combining two immunotherapy drugs could be effective in treating triple negative breast cancers arising in women with BRCA1 mutations.

The findings suggest that clinical trials of combined immunotherapy should be considered in women with these breast cancers. Immunotherapy works by boosting the body's immune cells to attack tumours and has been a 'game-changer' for treating melanoma and lung cancers.

The study, led by the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute's Dr Emma Nolan, Professor Geoff Lindeman, Dr Daniel Gray and Professor Jane Visvader, and Peter Mac's Associate Professor Sherene Loi and Associate Professor Phillip Darcy, was published today in Science Translational Medicine.

Breast cancer affects one in eight women in Australia. Triple negative breast cancers typically account for around 15 per cent of breast cancers, affecting around 2400 women each year, but are much more common in women with BRCA1 mutations.

Professor Lindeman, also a medical oncologist at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and Peter Mac, said triple negative breast cancers were more aggressive and more likely to recur than other breast cancers.

"Triple negative breast cancers have not seen the same improvement in targeted therapies, or survival, as some other types of breast cancer," Professor Lindeman said. "Our study showed that combining anti-PD1 and anti-CTLA4 immunotherapies with chemotherapy halted the growth of BRCA1-related tumours and significantly improved survival in laboratory models."

Some cancer cells survive by hijacking and 'switching off' immune cells that would otherwise destroy the tumours. Anti-PD1 and anti-CTLA4 immunotherapies are so-called 'immune checkpoint inhibitors' that release the brakes on critical immune cells, enabling them to attack the tumour.

Dr Gray said previous research had shown that immunotherapy was particularly effective at treating tumours that had accumulated many mutations. "BRCA1-related triple negative breast cancers have some of the most 'chaotic' genomes, and we see many immune cells accumulate in and around the tumour," Dr Gray said.

"This suggests that the immune cells can readily detect that something is awry, but they aren't able to respond properly, because they have been disabled by tumour cells. We showed that a combination of anti-PD1 and anti-CTLA4 therapies restored their ability to attack and kill triple negative breast tumour cells, and very effectively control tumour growth."

Associate Professor Loi, head of breast cancer clinical trials research at Peter Mac and for the Parkville precinct, said work was already underway to translate these important findings from laboratory models of breast cancer into a clinical trial for women with the disease.

"Our lab-based findings provide compelling evidence to progress to a clinical trial of this combination of immunotherapy drugs, and chemotherapy, in women with BRCA1-related breast cancer," Associate Professor Loi said. "There is also a rationale to consider the same for BRCA2-related cancers and triple negative breast cancer more broadly.

"Importantly, there are already a number of immunotherapy-based clinical trials underway in breast cancer and these two drugs - anti-PD1 and anti-CTLA4 - are in use for other cancers, so we would hope to begin a trial of this specific combination of immunotherapies in suitable breast cancer patients in the near future."

Professor Lindeman said the study was a great example of what the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre (VCCC) partners could achieve. "Our study brought together researchers with diverse expertise across several institutions, including PhD students from the University of Melbourne. We also benefited from our close collaboration with kConFab, a national consortium focused on familial breast cancer," he said.
-end-
The research was supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council, Cancer Council Victoria, Australian Cancer Research Foundation, Breast Cancer Research Foundation (US), Joan Marshall Breast Cancer Research Fund, Qualtrough Cancer Research Fund and Victorian State Government Operational Infrastructure Support Program. The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and Peter Mac are partners in the VCCC, bringing ten of Melbourne's leading institutions together to accelerate the control and cure of cancer.

Walter and Eliza Hall Institute

Related Breast Cancer Articles:

Does MRI plus mammography improve detection of new breast cancer after breast conservation therapy?
A new article published by JAMA Oncology compares outcomes for combined mammography and MRI or ultrasonography screenings for new breast cancers in women who have previously undergone breast conservation surgery and radiotherapy for breast cancer initially diagnosed at 50 or younger.
Blood test offers improved breast cancer detection tool to reduce use of breast biopsy
A Clinical Breast Cancer study demonstrates Videssa Breast can inform better next steps after abnormal mammogram results and potentially reduce biopsies up to 67 percent.
Surgery to remove unaffected breast in early breast cancer increases
The proportion of women in the United States undergoing surgery for early-stage breast cancer who have preventive mastectomy to remove the unaffected breast increased significantly in recent years, particularly among younger women, and varied substantially across states.
Breast cancer patients with dense breast tissue more likely to develop contralateral disease
Breast cancer patients with dense breast tissue have almost a two-fold increased risk of developing disease in the contralateral breast, according to new research from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer.
Some early breast cancer patients benefit more from breast conservation than from mastectomy
Breast conserving therapy (BCT) is better than mastectomy for patients with some types of early breast cancer, according to results from the largest study to date, presented at ECC2017.
One-third of breast cancer patients not getting appropriate breast imaging follow-up exam
An annual mammogram is recommended after treatment for breast cancer, but nearly one-third of women diagnosed with breast cancer aren't receiving this follow-up exam, according to new findings presented at the 2016 Annual Clinical Congress of the American College of Surgeons.
Low breast density worsens prognosis in breast cancer
Even though dense breast tissue is a risk factor for breast cancer, very low mammographic breast density is associated with a worse prognosis in breast cancer patients.
Is breast conserving therapy or mastectomy better for early breast cancer?
Young women with early breast cancer face a difficult choice about whether to opt for a mastectomy or breast conserving therapy (BCT).
Breast density and outcomes of supplemental breast cancer screening
In a study appearing in the April 26 issue of JAMA, Elizabeth A.
Full dose radiotherapy to whole breast may not be needed in early breast cancer
Five years after breast-conserving surgery, radiotherapy focused around the tumor bed is as good at preventing recurrence as irradiating the whole breast, with fewer side effects, researchers from the UK have found in the large IMPORT LOW trial.

Related Breast Cancer Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Anthropomorphic
Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#SB2 2019 Science Birthday Minisode: Mary Golda Ross
Our second annual Science Birthday is here, and this year we celebrate the wonderful Mary Golda Ross, born 9 August 1908. She died in 2008 at age 99, but left a lasting mark on the science of rocketry and space exploration as an early woman in engineering, and one of the first Native Americans in engineering. Join Rachelle and Bethany for this very special birthday minisode celebrating Mary and her achievements. Thanks to our Patreons who make this show possible! Read more about Mary G. Ross: Interview with Mary Ross on Lash Publications International, by Laurel Sheppard Meet Mary Golda...