Cochrane commends Queen’s University on cancer research breakthroughs

Judith Cochrane MLA, Secretary of the All Party Assembly Group on Cancer has welcomed the latest cancer research breakthroughs scientists at the Centre for Cancer Research & Cell Biology at Queens University Belfast.

Judith Cochrane MLA said: “These milestone discoveries by the team at CCRCB are fantastic news for both women with the BRCA1 gene, and those with Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia and they serve as yet another example of the world-leading research being undertaken at Queen’s which continues to advance knowledge and change lives.”

Cancer researchers at Queen’s University Belfast have made a breakthrough which could signal new treatments for women at high risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

Currently around one in 1,000 women in the UK carry what is known as a BRCA1 mutation – the same condition that prompted well-known actress Angelina Jolie to undergo a double mastectomy. They have up to an 85 per cent risk of developing breast cancer, and up to 40 per cent risk of developing ovarian cancer, in their lifetimes.

Until now, preventive surgery – mastectomy (breasts) and oophorectomy (ovaries) – has been the only way of reducing the risk of developing both types of cancers.

The new discovery by researchers in Queen’s Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology may mean women affected with BRCA1 could use drugs, which are already available, to reduce their risk of developing the disease, rather than undergo irreversible surgery. In turn, such treatments would open up the possibility of some of these women, who might otherwise have an oophorectomy, still being able to have children. The research proves there is a direct link between high levels of oestrogen and DNA damage, which causes cancer, in the breasts and ovaries.

Specifically, the scientists discovered that the cells of women with the BRCA1 mutation cannot effectively fight the very high levels of oestrogen that exist in all women’s breasts and ovaries, leaving them vulnerable to DNA damage. While this link between oestrogen, breast/ovarian cancer and BRCA1 mutation has been suspected by the scientific community for years, it has not been proven until now.

Additionally, researchers, Dr Irvine and Dr Crawford have recently had a radical paper published in relation to patients with Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia (CML).

Currently, CML patients receive treatment with a type of drug called a tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI). These drugs are very effective at controlling the disease but patients can become resistant to this approach and the cells responsible for causing the disease remain.

They have found that a new family of drugs called proteasome inhibitors are effective in patients who have become resistant to TKIs. These compounds can also be combined with low doses of TKIs to effectively destroy the original cancer causing cells when tested in the laboratory. Proteasome inhibitors offer a new treatment option for clinical investigation.

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