Donor-supported research uncovers potential treatment for drug-resistant breast cancer

A study recently published in Cancer Letters found that a known anticancer drug was effective in treating a common type of breast cancer that is often resistant to traditional treatment.
The project, led by Aurora Research Institute Discovery Laboratory scientist Jun Yin, PhD, focused on human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2)-positive breast cancer cells. Traditional first-line treatment for this type of breast cancer involves the drug trastuzumab, which is a formulated protein that binds to the HER2 proteins to slow or stop cancer growth.
“Trastuzumab has been shown to improve survival of patients with HER2-positive breast cancer, however, nearly a quarter of patients treated with trastuzumab demonstrate resistance to the drug and experience cancer recurrence within 10 years,” Dr. Yin said.
In the study, Dr. Yin and her research team found that AZD1775, a potent anticancer agent that has been studied as a treatment for a range of cancer types, specifically and effectively targets trastuzumab-resistant cancer cells, both inhibiting their growth and killing them.
Furthermore, the researchers found that AZD1775 targets cancer stem-like cells (CSCs), which are thought to be responsible for tumor recurrence and resistance to treatment. The researchers found that AZD1775 blocks CSC formation by suppressing the gene MUC1, which had not been previously reported in HER2-positive breast cancer.
“This is the first study to evaluate AZD1775 for treating trastuzumab-resistant HER2-positive breast cancer,” said Aurora Health Care breast oncology surgeon Judy Tjoe, MD, who coauthored the study. “We hope this treatment can potentially be used to effectively target HER2-postive breast cancer and other types of cancers that have demonstrated resistance to first-line therapy.”
The study was conducted in part by a tumor cell line created from tissue donated by Aurora Health Care patients to Aurora Research Institute’s Biorepository and Specimen Resource Center.
“This study is a great example of how we can leverage our resources to bring scientists and clinicians together to potentially improve patient outcomes,” said Amy Beres, PhD, director of cancer research for Aurora Research Institute, part of Advocate Aurora Health.
The project is part of Dr. Yin’s ongoing research into the discovery of biomarkers that could predict drug resistance to first-line cancer treatments and offer treatment alternatives. The project was made possible thanks to a generous donation from Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation in February 2018.
Much of our research is funded by donors like you. Please consider making a gift to support lifesaving research and clinical trials today.
Jun Yin (right), research scientist, confers with Dr. Judy Tjoe, breast oncology surgeon, on a research project.

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