Rebbitzin Tanya arranged An Evening of Inspiration and Empowerment with help from some of the ladies in the community in aid of Secondary1st. All those coming to her Breast Cancer Awareness Event were invited to celebrate and wear pink, and learn more about breast cancer. Tanya, an advanced practice radiographer for the NHS Royal Free NHS Trust, was joined by Emily, an NHS speciality doctor in the Harringay Islington Gynaecology service. They talked about the importance of breast screening and the mammogram process. They then spoke about implants and pacemakers before describing the best self-examination techniques and the symptoms to watch out for. They went on to talk about the significance of the BRCA gene and its possible mutations. There was time to enjoy some pink food and the winners of the 56 fabulous raffle prizes were picked. The evening was a great success and both very informative and most enjoyable.
Dr Pors and Enrica, the PhD student working in his team at the University of Bradford whose first year was funded by a grant from Secondary1st, have provided this update on progress with their research project.
Dr Klaus Pors and his PhD student at the University of Bradford are hoping to modify an extremely toxic chemotherapy, so it can be used to treat breast cancer.
Duocarmycins, the type of chemotherapy drugs the researchers are working on, are so toxic that in their original form they can’t be used as a cancer treatment.
To overcome this, in the lab they are creating a version of the drug that would only attack cancer cells and have less severe side effects. The researchers are changing the drug so that it only becomes active when it reaches the tumour, meaning it can’t damage other areas of the body.
A group of proteins called CYP proteins are frequently overproduced in breast cancer cells. Dr Pors and others have designed a duocarmycin variant that relies on these proteins to turn it on.
The team are testing this version of duocarmycin in the laboratory to see if it is effective and, if successful, the new drug could be further tested in clinical trials for people living with breast cancer.
Meet Enrica – PhD student in Dr Pors’ lab
‘My name is Enrica Denasio. I am from Italy. My journey with research started about two years ago, as I was finishing my Pharmacy studies at the University of Turin.
I have a real passion for learning about people and new cultures, so I decided to complete my degree by conducting my final year project abroad. My wish came true as I was successful in securing a competitive Erasmus mobility grant to carry out research at the Institute of Cancer Therapeutics, University of Bradford.
Carrying out my undergraduate project in Dr Pors’ lab helped me to discover what carrying out research really means. On a personal level, learning every day something new to meet the demands of my own curiosity and perseverance is rewarding; but it is nothing compared to the joy I feel by working together with a team of scientists all working towards patient benefit.
This inspired me to continue my career in research and fortunately, I was able to secure the PhD position in Dr Pors’ lab.
My career journey is also personal. In my own family, cancer has affected mostly women and I feel privileged to now be doing cutting-edge research that ultimately might help patients with secondary breast cancer. After just about a year of research, I can happily say that this decision to embark on a PhD programme in Bradford was totally worth it. Despite all the difficulties such as living far away from my family, and the stress that sometimes comes with doing a PhD – I can confidently say that every little step, every single result is a victory for me, for science and for women – especially those living with breast cancer.’
The first year of this research project has been used to train Enrica in specific techniques to analyse the types of CYP proteins that are found in breast cancer cells. These techniques include ways to distinguish between different CYP proteins and to measure their amounts inside breast cancer cells.
Because CYP proteins will be responsible for switching on the modified duocarmycins inside the tumour, the researchers are looking for ways to maximise this potential cancer weakness. The most promising duocarmycin variants have been used to understand what levels of CYP proteins inside breast cancer cells are needed to turn on the drug for it to have the highest anti-cancer activity. The duocarmycin variants have also been tested in combination with drugs that promote the production of CYP proteins inside cancer cells such as paclitaxel (a chemotherapy drug) and olaparib (a PARP inhibitor). Early data suggests that such combinations could increase treatment effectiveness and the researchers will investigate this further.
‘Enrica’s ongoing work is hugely exciting and we are very much indebted to Secondary 1st for their interest in our research and support. It means we are able to work towards a better treatment option for patients living with secondary breast cancers’ – Dr Klaus Pors
The next steps for this project include more in-depth studies of the drug combinations that could increase the effectiveness of duocarmycin variants. Such experiments will include growing breast cancer cells and non-cancer cells together in 3D mini-tumours to better understand how these drugs move and distribute themselves in a tumour environment.
Like many other cancer drugs, these new duocarmycin variants kill cancer cells by causing catastrophic DNA damage. The researchers are also planning to investigate the extent of the DNA damage that occurs when both cancer and non-cancer cells are exposed to the duocarmycin variants, either alone or in combination with other drugs. This work will be a starting point towards building detailed effectiveness and safety profiles of the duocarmycin variants.
Towards the end of the second year of this project, the researchers will decide when Enrica will join collaborator Professor Stewart Martin at the University of Nottingham to test duocarmycin variants in combination with radiation therapy, using 2D and 3D breast cancer models in the lab.
What this means for people with secondary breast cancer
There is an urgent need for new, kinder treatments for breast cancer. A duocarmycin variant would be the first of its kind, with the potential to selectively target breast cancer cells. A treatment like this could be used to treat patients whose breast cancer has become resistant to several other drugs. These people otherwise would not have another treatment option. When a new drug is developed, it is most likely to reach people with secondary breast cancer first, as this is where the biggest need is. The information generated in this research project could support the progression of a duocarmycin drug to a clinical trial.
Donna lost her sister to secondary breast cancer in 2019. Six months later another sister was diagnosed with breast cancer; she went through treatment and is now back to life with her family. Donna found that she too was a carrier of a mutated BRCA gene so she took the brave decision to have a double mastectomy and reduced her chance of developing breast cancer to that of someone without the faulty gene. In Spring 2019 Donna, who was not a regular runner, trained with a friend and ran the Bristol 10k to raise money for Seconadry1st. This year she won’t run the 10k because of her operation but she still wants to support Secondary1st. She is asking everyone to send a kiss to someone they know to show they are thinking about them and as a reminder to check themselves, as finding any change as early as possible is so important.
Tracey is raising money for Secondary1st in memory of her close friend Jo Bartlett. This year Tracey has already completed the Virtual Easter 50 Challenge and the 100k Thames Path Challenge as one of “The Young and The Breathless” with Jacob and Sam. On 30th October she will be taking part in the 50k Halloween Walk. This starts at the Dungeon deep in the Oval Cricket Ground, continues along the Thames riverbank, then goes through the heart of Central London and back to the Oval Dungeon for a halfway break before another loop around Central London to finish back at the Oval Dungeon.
Ruby decided to raise more money for Secondary1st in honour of her Auntie Charlie. She cut off more than 10 inches of her hair and donated it to the Little Princess Trust, which provides free real hair wigs to children and young people who have lost their own hair. She received a certificate from the Trust, a “kindness” badge from school and many, many thanks from Secondary1st. We think her new hairstyle looks wonderful and really suits her.
NHS England is to fund the first national secondary breast cancer audit to produce accurate information about the numbers living with this disease. The audit will also give insight into the needs and experiences of people living with metastatic breast cancer and so help to ensure that the treatment and care programmes and services needed by patients become available in the necessary numbers and places. A series of features broadcast by the BBC on October 7th revealed that women with secondary breast cancer often feel overlooked and forgotten. The NHSE audit will provide vital information and help to increase awareness of the disease so that people with secondary breast cancer no longer feel ignored.
On Secondary Breast Cancer Awareness Day thanks to the continuing support of our wonderful donors and amazing fundraisers and despite the difficulties caused by the pandemic, we are thrilled to announce that we will be making two grants to research projects in 2021.
We are awarding a third grant of another £65,000 to the research team led by Dr Seth Coffelt at the Beatson Institute at the University of Glasgow. They are working to understand the part played by gamma delta T cells, a type of immune cell, in the spread of breast cancer. Their aim is to fully understand the ways in which breast tumours affect the behaviour of immune cells so that new immunotherapy treatments could be developed to retrain the immune system to stop breast cancer from spreading.
Our other grant of a further £31,000 is going to fund the second year of the PhD student working under Dr Klaus Pors at The Institute of Cancer Therapeutics in Bradford. They are examining the enzymes which metabolise certain drugs. Whilst these drugs have been shown to be effective against secondary tumours, past trials have failed because these drugs also attack healthy tissue. This team are investigating ways of stopping these drugs from attacking healthy tissue, and so providing a source of effective treatment for secondary tumours.
After his magnificent fundraising ride in the tropical climate of Singapore, David handed over a cheque to help fund more research into secondary breast cancer.
Katie, Jenny and Kate are taking on a huge challenge to raise money for charity. Although they are not avid bikers they are aiming to cycle the Trans Pennine Trail, a distance of 206 miles across Northern England, in four days. The Trail starts in Stockport on the West Coast and continues through Liverpool, Warrington, Manchester, Leeds, Wakefield, Barnsley, Sheffield, Rotherham, Doncaster, York and Hull to Hornsea on the East Coast. Their route will take them along canal towpaths, urban cycle paths, riverside pathways and minor roads to their destination on the Yorkshire coast.