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Manchester researchers announce new methods of beating breast cancer

October 01, 2007

University of Manchester researchers will reveal new ways of controlling and treating breast cancer at the National Cancer Research Institute conference in Birmingham today (Monday 1 October 2007).

Dr Robert Clarke and his team at the University's Cancer Studies research group have been investigating human breast cancers for the presence of stem cells - cells that generate new tumours and can cause the cancer to recur - in a series of studies funded by the charity Breast Cancer Campaign.

One third of women who are successfully treated for breast cancer find that the disease recurs some years later because some of these cancer cells survive the treatment and begin to grow again.

The team's research into these 'breast cancer stem cells' revealed that the cells are stimulated by the Notch gene. The team, who published the study in Journal of the National Cancer Institute, is now hoping to develop new drug therapies to target this gene and thus stop the growth of any surviving breast cancer stem cells.

One drug that is known to attack Notch is already used for the treatment of Alzheimer's Disease so, having undergone health and safety checks, its clinical trial for use on breast cancer patients could be speeded up and lead to a treatment in hospital clinics within a few years. Herceptin, by contrast, took more than 15 years to go from the discovery of its gene target to treatment.

The team is also aiming to identify other new pathways of controlling breast cancer stem cells by using a genetic library to shut down other genes at random to see how it affects them, in a study with Rene Bernards at the Netherlands Cancer Institute.

The team, along with Professor Tony Whetton, are using a state-of-the-art mass-spectrometry based proteomics facility at the Paterson Institute of Cancer Research to identify proteins that control breast cancer stem cells. The facility - one of only a few in the UK - enables them to break up breast cancer stem cell proteins and analyse the sequence of amino acids to identify novel proteins that control the cells' growth.

Dr Clarke says: "Our work has revealed the importance of several pathways not previously known to regulate stem cell survival and self-renewal, which is tremendously exciting. Inhibitors of signalling pathways that regulate cancer stem cells could represent a new therapeutic modality in breast cancer, to be used in combination with current treatments in the near future."
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For more information, a copy of the paper or to arrange an interview with Professor Robert Clarke, please contact NCRI press officer at the conference press suite or University of Manchester Media Relations Officer Mikaela Sitford on 07768 980942.

Editor's Note:

The University of Manchester team: Professor Robert Clarke, Dr Gillian Farnie and Professor Nigel Bundred (Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences) and Dr Keith Brennan (Faculty of Life Sciences).

The Cancer Studies research group is one of two in the School of Cancer and Imaging Sciences and is a key partner in the Manchester Cancer Research Centre as part of the Manchester Comprehensive Cancer Network. The Manchester Cancer Research Centre will see a major increase in the cancer research efforts and facilities with the aim to recruit at least ten world-class clinical and non-clinical cancer researchers within the next five years. The strong partnership with the University and Trusts will help make Manchester a truly formidable player in international cancer research and care. The Cancer Network provides a range of specialist diagnostics and treatment for cancer patients together with laboratory, translational and clinical research.

The University of Manchester's Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences boasts an annual research income of £51 million, almost a third of the University's total research income. There are 7,600 undergraduate students and 1,600 postgraduates on award-bearing courses. More students graduate each year from the School of Medicine than from any other medical school in the UK. There is a strong organisational capability for undertaking cross-faculty teaching and research activity in partnership with the public sector and industry. Excellent links also exist with the NHS in terms of undertaking pioneering medical and clinically based research. The Faculty is a key stakeholder in the Greater Manchester Research Alliance.

The Paterson Institute for Cancer Research (PICR) is a research institute within The University of Manchester, and is one of four research institutes core-funded by Cancer Research UK. It is a partner in the newly-formed Manchester Cancer Research Centre (MCRC), whose goal is to become one of the world's leading cancer research centres. MCRC brings together the cancer research activity in the city of The University of Manchester, Christie Hospital NHS Trust and Cancer Research UK. Facilities include micro-arrays, advanced imaging, bioinformatics and state-of-the-art mass-spectrometry based proteomics. For more information please visit www.paterson.man.ac.uk.

Breast Cancer Campaign is the only charity that specialises in funding independent breast cancer research throughout the UK. Our research looks at improving diagnosis and treatment, better understanding how breast cancer develops and ultimately either curing the disease or preventing it. Currently it supports 97 research projects, worth over £11.9 million, in 50 centres of excellence across the UK.

The National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Cancer Conference is the UK's premier forum for disseminating advances across all aspects of cancer research. AstraZeneca is the gold sponsor for the NCRI Cancer Conference 2007.

The National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) was established in April 2001. It is a partnership between government, the voluntary sector and the private sector, with the primary mission of maximising patient benefit that accrues from cancer research in the UK through coordination of effort and joint planning towards an integrated national strategy for cancer research. See www.ncri.org.uk. The NCRI consists of: The Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI); The Association for International Cancer Research; The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council; Breakthrough Breast Cancer; Breast Cancer Campaign; Cancer Research UK; Department of Health; Economic and Social Research Council; Leukaemia Research Fund; Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research; Macmillan Cancer Support; Marie Curie Cancer Care; The Medical Research Council; Northern Ireland Health and Personal Social Services Research & Development Office; Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation; Scottish Executive Health Department; Tenovus; Wales Office of Research and Development for Health & Social Care; Wellcome Trust; and Yorkshire Cancer Research.

University of Manchester

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