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Breakthrough for breast cancer

Scientists in Scotland have discovered a molecule in breast cancer cells that could help identify the best treatment regime

Scientists at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, have discovered a molecule in breast cancer cells that could help identify whether a patient should undergo chemotherapy and, if so, which drug will be most effective.

The breakthrough could lead to higher survival rates through more individually tailored treatment of the disease, which is reported to affect one in nine women in the UK.

The experts have shown that the molecule, found in breast cancer cells, may actually protect these cells from being killed off in treatment.

Women with this molecule, called serpin B3, could be treated with a more aggressive form of chemotherapy, which could increase their chances of survival.

The findings are the result of a 12-month study of 250 women being treated for breast cancer in Aberdeen.

Lead researcher in the study, Dr Elaina Collie-Duguid, said: "This is a major finding, which could ultimately increase the survival rates from breast cancer by allowing identification of the type of chemotherapy which is likely to be most effective in individual patients.

"We have shown that patients who have the molecule serpin B3 present in their breast cancer cells have a very poor prognosis if treated with the standard anthracycline based regimens. This may be due to serpin B3 working as a protective barrier for the cancerous cells, preventing them from being killed off by these chemotherapy drugs.

"Testing for the presence of serpin B3 could result in patients found to have this cancer molecule being treated with the more aggressive of the most effective chemotherapy drugs - taxanes.

"Although taxanes have more severe side effects than other chemotherapy drugs, they are more likely to have a higher success rate in killing off the cancer cells in patients found to host this molecule."

Scientists will now repeat the study on a larger group of breast cancer patients. If confirmed, it is hoped the findings could be used in clinical practice within the next two years.

Professor Steve Heys, cancer research programme leader at the University of Aberdeen, said: "Our discovery opens up the possibility for much more targeted and tailor-made treatment of breast cancer patients in the future by giving us the potential to predict if a patient needs chemotherapy and understanding which type of drug treatment they will best respond to.

"We will now repeat the study on a larger series of patients to confirm our findings before commencing a clinical trial where the presence of the molecule in a patient's breast cancer will be used to determine their treatment protocol."

The research is being funded by local charities and the University of Aberdeen.

15th September 2010

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