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Creating new antibodies to overcome drug resistance in HER2-positive breast cancer

  • Researcher: Dr Helen Dooley
  • Institution: University of Aberdeen
  • Award Amount: £202,566 for 3 years from September 2013
  • Cancer Type: Breast Cancer
Creating new antibodies to overcome drug resistance in HER2-positive breast cancer
In about a quarter of women with breast cancer, the cancer cells have a very high level of a protein called HER2 on their surface; this is referred to as HER2-positive breast cancer. As the HER2 protein helps cancer cells to grow, a number of drugs have been developed to stop HER2 from working properly. One such drug, Herceptin, uses a molecule called an antibody that attaches to the HER2 protein, blocking its action and stopping the cancer cell from growing. Unfortunately, cancer cells can become resistant to this treatment. Research suggests that when HER2 is blocked it causes an increase in the level of a similar protein, called HER3, on the cancer cell surface, and that this is a major cause of resistance. Scientists are now trying to find ways to block HER3 along with HER2, thereby providing a way to treat tumours that have become resistant to Herceptin. A special type of antibody has been discovered in sharks; it has a smaller attachment region than human antibodies and so can block its target in a very different way. For this reason scientists believe shark antibodies may work better than the current antibodies for the treatment of HER2-positive breast cancer. Dr Dooley and her team have been awarded a grant from Worldwide Cancer Research to find shark antibodies that can attach to the HER2 and HER3 proteins and stop them both from working. They will then investigate whether these antibodies can stop cancer cells from growing, using lab-based tests.
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