Close up of researcher working with samples in a lab

Improving the effectiveness of a breast cancer treatment for more patients

Professor Pieter Eichhorn
Project period
Jan 2024 - Dec 2025
Research Institute
Curtin University
Cancer types
Breast cancer
Award amount

Project aim

Professor Pieter Eichhorn and his team in Perth, Australia, are investigating how to improve the effectiveness of a group of targeted cancer drugs called PI3K inhibitors, which have the potential to help huge numbers of breast cancer patients.

Hope for the future

Targeted cancer therapies are helping to revolutionise the way we treat cancer, and P13K inhibitors show particular promise as a targeted treatment for breast cancer. But unfortunately, they are not as effective as they could be for many patients, and researchers don’t really know why.

So Professor Eichhorn and his group are working to understand why these treatments work for some people, but not others. They hope their work will unearth possible new ways to improve the effectiveness of PI3K inhibitor treatment for more people. Their project could also provide new information to help predict who is likely to benefit from PI3K inhibitor treatment, and who will not. This kind of information is vital for ensuring that patients receive the most effective treatment, as quickly as possible.

Headshot of Professor Pieter Eichhorn

Meet the scientist

Pieter grew up in small town in Canada and recently moved to Perth, Australia. As with most kids growing up in the 70’s and 80’s he was outside of the house all day and only really came home to eat. This feeling has stayed with him his whole life, enjoying an active outdoor lifestyle. This also drives his work where he sees those stricken by cancer lose this luxury. His goal is to enhance the quality of life for those diagnosed with cancer so that they enjoy more of those moments.

The science

PI3K inhibitors target an important group of molecules that many breast cancer cells (and other types of cancer too) need to grow and survive.

Professor Eichhorn and his team have found important early evidence of molecular changes that could help to explain why some patients respond well to treatment with PI3K inhibitors, while others do not. They will now use a combination of innovative techniques to explore this in more detail.

First, the team will investigate the molecular processes that help cancer cells to ‘ignore’ PI3K inhibitor treatment and continue to grow. Then, they will work to identify possible new ways to ‘short circuit’ this resistance, so that the cancer cells cannot survive treatment.

As part of this work, they will use tiny ‘organoids’ of breast cancer (small cell models of the disease), developed from patients who had treatment resistance to PI3K inhibitors. This will help the researchers determine the success of their results, and hopefully help to identify new ways of enhancing the effectiveness of PI3K inhibitors for patients.   

Headshot of Professor Pieter Eichhorn Professor Pieter Eichhorn
One of the aims of the Worldwide Cancer Research grant is to develop a completely new type of cancer drug. If successful it may revolutionise cancer treatment not only in breast cancer but in lung cancer and melanoma as well. Your donations have given my team the opportunity to develop this new therapy as proof of concept.

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