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Exposing and exploiting breast cancer’s Achilles’ heel

  • Researcher: Professor Emilio Hirsch
  • Institution: University of Turin, Italy
  • Award Amount: £135,500 for 3 years from 1st June 2015
  • Cancer Type: Breast Cancer
Exposing and exploiting breast cancer’s Achilles’ heel
When a cell divides, both new cells must have a complete set of chromosomes.  If the set is incomplete, or extra chromosomes are present, it can sometimes lead to the cells becoming cancerous.  However, these genetic differences between healthy and cancerous cells also potentially provide a selective weakness that can be exploited as a cancer cell’s Achilles’ heel. Professor Emilio Hirsch told us “Our preliminary findings indicate that a protein called PI3K-C2α is involved in cell division and plays a role in ensuring the two new cells get a complete set of chromosomes.  In mice, we found that removing PI3K-C2α allows breast cancers to grow faster.  In human patients, low levels PI3K-C2α also correlates with the more serious ‘higher grades’ of breast cancer. Nonetheless, this ability of tumours with low PI3K-C2α to grow faster, appears to come at a price.  They have specific biological weaknesses, making them more sensitive to existing cancer drugs like taxanes.” He explained “With this project we are aiming to get a better understanding of these processes and the role of PI3K-C2α in cell division and cancer.  We also want to understand why low levels of PI3K-C2α enable the breast cancer cells to grow faster. We finally want to confirm that reduced levels of PI3K-C2α expose a cell’s Achille’s heel which could be exploited with the use of tailor made drugs to treat the more life-threatening high grade breast cancers.”
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