On the pulse 20 March 2014

  • Cancerkin visits Chai Cancer Care
  • New prognostic test for breast cancer could improve patient treatment

Cancerkin visits Chai Cancer Care
As part of Cancerkin’s commitment to work with similar organisations, Victoria Todd (Cancerkin’s Chief Executive) visited the Chai Cancer Care centre this week and met with Louise Hager, Chai’s Chairman, and Lisa Steele, their Chief Executive. She came back very impressed with their stunningly beautiful Centre, the range of therapies they offer and the very warm welcome she received.

Study identifies protein which causes breast cancer cells to migrate
A study published online in The Journal of Cell Biology has identified a protein that causes individual cells to be released from their neighbouring cells and migrate away from healthy breast tissue. Their results, they say, help clarify the molecular changes required for cancer cells to metastasize.

The researchers looked at epithelial cells, which line the inside and outside of organs throughout the body and give rise to 85% of all cancers. In this study, they focused on mammary epithelial cells, which form the ducts that carry milk within the breast. As Dr Ewald, one of the study authors, explains, “tumour cells have to break their connections to other epithelial cells in order to leave the breast and build metastases in other parts of the body.”

The scientists removed small pieces of mammary tissue from normal mice and grew them in gels that mimic their natural environment. By using coloured proteins to mark different types of cells, they were then able to watch how cell behaviour varied with changes to the genetics of the cell.

The first protein studied, E-cadherin, is found on the surface of most epithelial cells and is used to connect epithelial cells to each other.  Its absence is often associated with human breast cancers. Therefore, when the scientists deleted the protein from normal mouse mammary cells, they were surprised to find that most of the epithelial cells still remained connected to each other. The same result was found in live mice.

In a second set of experiments, the team turned on a gene called Twist 1. Within 24 hours, dozens of individual cells had begun to move past the epithelial boundary and into the gel beyond. Again, similar results were seen when this experiment was repeated in live mice.

Further experiments indicated the single cell detachment and migration induced by Twist 1 actually requires the presence of E-caderin – the protein that helps bind cells together. As Dr Ewald says, “This finding is quite counterintuitive and we are eager to understand the biology behind it…our goal is to improve outcomes for patients with metastatic breast cancer, and this work takes us one step closer to doing so.”

For more information please visit Science Daily.

On the pulse 13 March 2014

  • Cancerkin’s Annual Lecture
  • New prognostic test for breast cancer could improve patient treatment

Cancerkin’s Annual Lecture
The Annual Lecture was held this week and was a great success. Professor Justin Stebbing MD MA FRCP FRCPath PhD, Professor of Cancer Medicine and Medical Oncology at Imperial College and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust gave a fascinating lecture on how breast cancer treatment has developed over the past few decades, and what is to come in the future. He was joined by Aleksandra Filipovic, a Clinical Fellow at Imperial College, who discussed some of the underlying science in more depth, and Vanessa Carlos, a patient, who was able to give a “patient’s-eye view” on breast cancer treatment today.

It really was an inspiring lecture, which balanced both the science behind breast cancer treatment with the importance of the treating the patient as a person. Professor Stebbing also answered questions after the lecture, giving full and insightful comments on a number of topics.

For the first time, the lecture was completely booked, and we are glad that so many of you were able to hear such a captivating lecture. The comments we have heard from people who attended have all been overwhelmingly positive, and so we would like to say a big thank you to John Carrier, Cancerkin’s Chairman, for leading the evening and Tim Davidson, Cancerkin’s Medical Director for chairing the question and answer session. We would especially like to thank Professor Stebbing, Aleksandra Filipovic and Vanessa Carlos for what was a most enlightening and enjoyable talk.

New prognostic test for breast cancer could improve patient treatment
A study by researchers based at the University of Nottingham have developed The Nottingham Prognostic Index Plus (NPI+), a new clinical test for breast cancer  which aims to improve patient treatment.

The NPI+ test was developed from the existing Nottingham Prognostic Index. The Nottingham Prognostic Index was created 30 years ago and is currently used across the world when treating patients with breast cancer to evaluate the risk of the disease returning after surgery.  However, it now known that breast cancer is a biologically complex disease, with its various forms having very different outcomes. Therefore, the more information a doctor has on a particular patient’s cancer, the better they can produce an effective plan of treatment.

The new NPI+ test therefore incorporates the measurement of 10 proteins (biomarkers) found in breast cancer cells. These biomarkers include ER and HER2 which are currently tested for in clinics along with others which are not currently tested for.

The findings, published in The British Journal of Cancer, could significantly improve the way breast cancer patients are treated by providing clinicians with more detailed information about the patient’s breast cancer type and its likely behaviour, therefore enabling them to develop a more personalised treatment plan. As the technology required to measure protein biomarkers is already in place in most pathology laboratories across the UK, the NPI+ test could be ready for use in as little as two years, dependant on further validation work.

Professor Ian Ellis, the study’s leader, said:  “Using a panel of 10 biomarkers and other clinical information, we are able to categorise women with breast cancer into one of seven treatment-specific classes based on their personal cancer biology. We believe the categorisation of women with breast cancer into more specific risk classes will deliver better targeting of relevant therapies, which will result in improved outcomes with reduced costs and less anxiety for the patient.

NPI+ will reduce uncertainty for clinicians and patients by removing a large number of patients with indeterminate prognosis and allow better-informed treatment decisions. In addition the ability to give survival prediction will be welcomed by concerned patients. Decisions can be made more quickly reducing waiting times and unnecessary consultation time.”

For more information, please see Medical News Today.

On the pulse 6 March 2014

  • Young Women’s Support Group
  • Scientists develop new nanoscale technique to deliver chemotherapy drugs directly to tumours
  • Study links a specific gene to the risk of a breast cancer metastasizing

Young Women’s Support Group
March’s Young Women’s Support Group took place yesterday and we were joined by both Royal Free Breast Care Nurse Tina Kelleher and Cancerkin’s Reiki therapist Rain Webster. In the first half of the session patients spoke about their breast cancer experiences and their concerns, which included back pain and side effects of treatment. Tina was able to answer any questions they had and discuss their concerns.

The second half of the session focused on relaxation and meditation. Rain talked through ways to relax on a daily basis before she facilitated a mediation session. The group then had a discussion about the feelings and benefits of doing this particular exercise. Patients really appreciated this topic, with feedback including “excellent and relaxing session giving much needed reminder on relaxing techniques”.

We would like to thank both Tina and Rain for time they gave to speak to the Young Women’s Group.

Scientists develop new nanoscale technique to deliver chemotherapy drugs directly to tumours
Scientists from UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center have developed an innovative treatment technique which can deliver chemotherapy directly to tumour cells.

In this new method, custom-designed nanoparticles carry chemotherapy drugs directly to tumour cells. They then release the drugs when triggered by a two-photon laser in the infrared wavelength. Light-activated drug delivery has been seen as a promising development in cancer treatment as it would allow doctors to control precisely  when and where chemotherapy drugs are released, so they hit only tumour cells and not the surrounding healthy tissue. This can greatly increase the effectiveness of the treatment while reducing side-effects. However, the development of this technique has been difficult. To combat this, the multidisciplinary team from UCL collaborated with a scientist from the University of Montpellier to develop a new type of nanoparticle.

These new nanoparticles are designed with thousands of tiny tubes, called pores, to hold chemotherapy drugs. The ends of the pores are then sealed with nanovalves, which contain molecules which respond to energy from two-photon light exposure. The nanonvalves open and release the drugs when targeted by the laser.

The operation of the nanoparticles was demonstrated in the laboratory using human breast cancer cells. As the effective range of the laser is four centimetres from the skin surface, the delivery system could also target stomach, colon and ovarian tumours as well as breast cancers.

Jeffrey Zink, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCLA, said: “We have a wonderful collaboration…when the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center brings together totally diverse fields – in this case, a physical chemist and a cell signalling scientist – we can do things that neither one could do alone.”

For more information, please see Medical News Today.

Study links specific gene to spread of breast cancer
A new study published in PLOS ONE has suggested that a protein, called myoferlin, has a significant effect on the risk that breast cancer will spread.

The team of researchers, based at Ohio State University, previously determined that modifying a single gene to reduce myoferlin’s level in breast cancer cells reduced the cells’ ability to migrate away from the tumour site. In this new study, they found similar findings in animals: mice which were implanted with triple-negative breast cancer cells lacking myoferlin developed small, self-contained tumours made of cells that didn’t leave the tumour; mice implanted with triple-negative breast cancer cells containing myoferlin developed larger, irregular masses and showed signs that cancer cells had invaded the surrounding tissue.

The study suggested that the reducing the production of myoferlin affects breast cancer cells in two main ways. First, it suppresses genes associated with metastatic disease and increases the activity of genes linked to normal cell behaviour. Secondly, it alters the mechanical properties of the cells: cells with the protein go from being round and able to adhere together to irregularly shaped with a tendency to detach from the tumour site. Cells that lack the protein were able to retain their usual shape and stickiness, allowing the cells to stay together in a group.

Douglas Kniss, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Centre and senior author of the study, said: “Theoretically, if a patient had a tumour in which the myoferlin level was low, it would be defined as small and a surgeon could remove it and it wouldn’t metastasize. That’s the nodule type of tumour we saw in the mice with the silenced protein.

“Since triple-negative cells are the most dangerous, we do wonder if this protein is relevant to only the most dangerous types of cancers, or if it is more generalized. We don’t know the answer at the moment.”

The researchers will next analyse how the presence of myoferlin affects human tumours by comparing the protein levels in tumours to the clinical outcomes for the patients who provided the samples.

For more information, please see Medical News Today.