By Chardelle Prevatt
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide. In 2017, an estimated 300,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in North America, with over 45,000 women expected to succumb to the disease. Despite impressive strides in cancer research, we are limited in our ability to predict which patients will experience deadly metastases, the spread of breast cancer, and our understanding of this process is lacking.
Recently, a team of researchers—Drs. Karla Williams, Ann Chambers, and two GlycoNet scientists Drs. Mark Nitz and Hon Leong—received a US$600,000 award from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to expand their breast cancer research. Leveraging results generated from a GlycoNet-funded project on prostate cancer, the team will use an innovative process to analyse an aberrant glycan, or sugar, present on breast cancer tumours. The project will help to validate a potential biomarker associated with invasive breast cancer development in addition to uncovering its biological role in the metastatic process.
“This study presents a great opportunity to examine how to treat, delay, or prevent the metastasis of aggressive breast cancer cells,” said Dr. Nitz. “By understanding the progression of these cells, we can begin to risk stratify patients with the disease.”
GlycoNet Scientific Director Dr. Todd Lowary commented, “We’re pleased that GlycoNet’s early investment on this project led to the DoD grant. We look forward to gleaning new insights on metastatic tumours.”
Typically, all breast cancer patients receive toxic chemotherapy treatment, regardless of whether the cancer has metastasized, or spread, from its primary site. As a result, many patients endure harsh, and often unnecessary, side effects from these treatments. Preliminary research data has revealed some exciting ways to address this issue.
The team has identified a glycan in the bloodstream that can help distinguish between aggressive and nonaggressive cancer cells, providing a potential approach to better tailor a patient’s treatment options. Results have also indicated a significant link between high levels of the glycan and the risk of breast cancer recurrence.
“We’re excited to delve into this research to develop new diagnostic tests with the potential to reshape how we screen and monitor patients,” added Dr. Williams of Western University. “Our aim is to translate results into clinically relevant solutions so that patients receive the right treatment and bypass debilitating chemotherapy.”