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Fighting against chemotherapy resistant cancer cells

Chemotherapy is an effective way to treat many cancers, including breast cancer. But what happens when cells become resistant to the treatment? This is what research Dr Cameron Bracken is determined to find out.

Thanks to funds raised through The Longest Table, Dr Bracken from the Centre for Cancer Biology, received a grant from The Hospital Research Foundation Group to discover why cells become chemotherapy resistant, meaning the cancer cells have mutated making the treatment no longer effective.

“There is a distinct population of cancer-initiating cells that are capable of both self-renewal and the further creation of distinct cell types within the tumour. Although they account for only a small proportion of the total tumour, they present a critical challenge as they are resistant to therapy and are widely thought responsible for tumour relapse,” Dr Bracken said.

“Our research will focus on the role of a little-studied protein called Basonuclin-2 (BNC2) and the impact this has on the chemoresistance of these cancer-initiating cells in breast cancer.”

Many chemotherapies are effective at fighting cancer and show an encouraging response, however the development of chemotherapy resistance is a scary and major hurdle for patients and can also take an emotional toll on them.

“Although there is no single ‘magic bullet’ that will solve this problem for everyone, we have initial evidence that BNC2 might play a previously unrecognised role in this process,” Dr Bracken said.

“By studying it, we may both learn more about the process and identify a new target for therapy – in this case, one that should enhance the effectiveness of current therapies.”

Dr Bracken hopes to better understand the function of the BNC2 gene, both the extent to which it affects the behaviour of the breast cancer cells and the molecular mechanisms by which it does this.

His research is being conducted using human breast cancer cell lines, which are cells originally derived from breast cancer and now grown in the lab.

“Ultimately, we hope to find out whether BNC2 itself (or other genes we find with which BNC2 interacts) is something that we are able to target to develop and test a drug designed to block it,” Dr Bracken said.

“We are collaborating with Monash University in Melbourne, who are making antibodies against BNC2 for us which is a big help in working out what it does.”

“By investigating this protein and understanding it better, we aim to bring hope to all women fighting hard-to-treat and recurring breast cancers.”

If Dr Bracken’s research is successful, he could stop the heartbreak of not only breast cancer, but possibly other cancers affecting our loved ones.