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Do fruit flies have secret powers to help find potential new breast cancer drugs?

  • Researcher: Professor Helena Richardson
  • Institution: Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Melbourne, Australia
  • Award Amount: £202,405 for 3 years from June 2014
  • Cancer Type: Breast Cancer
Do fruit flies have secret powers to help find potential new breast cancer drugs?
Worldwide, it is estimated that more than 1.38 million women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 and men are also susceptible to the disease. Survival rates are increasing but that same year, it is estimated that around 459,000 women died from breast cancer. New drugs are therefore needed to help stop breast cancer cutting lives short. Dr Helena Richardson is investigating the role of a protein called Ras which is involved in around 30% (roughly one third) of all cancers and plays a major role in breast cancer. Ways to turn off Ras using chemicals has been a goal for scientists for some time but the number of potential drugs reaching clinical trials in humans has been low. Dr Richardson believes this could partly be because the initial research has been done in models that do not truly mimic the complex nature of breast cancer, which also involves changes in tissue structure. To address this, she is testing for potential breast cancer drugs in fruit flies as, maybe surprisingly; they can be used to mimic the defects that occur in human breast cancer very effectively. It is also easy to alter a fly's genes, and they have a short life cycle and are cheap and easy to use. This may seem a somewhat unconventional and radical approach, but testing of drugs in fruit flies has already been successful in identifying new potential drugs and some already FDA-approved chemicals for cancer therapy.
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