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Activating immune cells to enhance the effectiveness of the breast cancer drug trastuzumab

  • Researcher: Professor Miguel Lopez-Botet
  • Institution: Fundacio Institut Mar d'Investigacions Mèdiques (IMIM), Barcelona, Spain
  • Award Amount: £202,035 for 3 years from 1st September 2015
  • Cancer Type: Breast Cancer
Activating immune cells to enhance the effectiveness of the breast cancer drug trastuzumab
The HER2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2) gene normally helps control how a healthy breast cell grows, divides, and repairs itself. But in about 25% of breast cancers, the HER2 gene doesn't work correctly and makes too many copies of itself, known as HER2 gene amplification or overexpression. All these extra HER2 genes tell breast cells to make too many HER2 proteins (HER2 protein overexpression). This makes breast cells grow and divide in an uncontrolled way. HER2-positive breast cancers tend be more aggressive, they grow faster and are more likely to spread and come back. There are therapies specifically for HER2-positive breast cancers such as trastuzumab but there is varying success in women and many tumours develop resistance. Professor Miguel Lopez-Botet explains “The way trastuzumab works is by activating immune system cells called Natural Killer (NK) cells which kill tumour cells.  There are different subsets of NK cells with different activation thresholds, responsibilities and life-spans.  The number of each subset is determined by genetic and epigenetic (the attachment of molecules to alter gene activity) factors and varies person to person.  In cancer patients, the more robust their NK cell activity is, the more effective trastuzumab based therapies are.  Maximising the activation strength of the different NK cell subtypes by trastuzumab is becoming a plausible strategy to improve the clinical outcome for patients and is what we are investigating with this grant.”
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