A QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute scientist has discovered a new, more powerful predictor for aggressive breast cancers, which will give women a more accurate prognosis and ensure they are receiving the most effective treatment.
Dr Fares Al-Ejeh has found new gene “signatures” which can predict survival rates in all breast cancer cases, and is confident of converting the discovery into a quick pathology test within the next three years.
“There are tests on the market now, but they have their limitations. They are restricted to specific types of breast cancers or not useful for aggressive subtypes,” Dr Al-Ejeh said.
“This is not just another test. It outperforms current tests and, importantly, will apply to all breast cancers. It can also give a more accurate picture of survival rates in the particularly aggressive sub-sets: triple-negative breast cancer, high grade breast cancer and breast cancer that has spread to lymph nodes.
“So the beauty of this discovery is that we can separate survival rates even within those very aggressive cancers. Ultimately, it can mean overhauling treatment plans for women.”
Every woman’s breast cancer has its own, individual gene fingerprint – a specific combination of genes. This research has isolated two gene signatures: one that is found in all breast cancer cases, and a second that is found in triple-negative breast cancer – a particularly aggressive subset that accounts for about 20% of cases and usually affects young women.
“Breast cancer treatment options have advanced significantly in recent years. Women are being given the best treatments available, based on the knowledge we currently have,” Dr Al-Ejeh said.
“But the accuracy of this test would provide that extra information about the exact nature of the cancer, to make sure women are getting the most effective available treatment, and not receiving unnecessary or ineffective medications.”
Having established the biological basis of the work, Dr Al-Ejeh will now work towards converting the discovery to a standardised pathology test which would deliver results for patients within days.
He and collaborators at The University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre will seek funding to advance the technology, to provide benefits for women as soon as possible, hopefully within three years.
These findings are based, in part, on research published online in Oncogenesis and available to view at http://www.nature.com/oncsis/journal/v3/n4/full/oncsis201414a.html