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RCSI researchers discover new way to target secondary breast cancer that has spread to the brain

A study led by researchers at RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences and the Beaumont RCSI Cancer Centre (BRCC) has revealed a potential new way to treat secondary breast cancer that has spread to the brain, using existing drugs.

The study, published in Nature Communications, was funded by Breast Cancer Ireland with support from Breast Cancer Now and Science Foundation Ireland.

Most breast cancer related deaths are a result of treatment relapse. They lead to spread of tumours to many organs around the body. When secondary breast cancer, also known as metastatic breast cancer, spreads to the brain it can be particularly aggressive. This sometimes giving patients just months to live.

The RCSI study focused on genetically tracking the tumour evolution. This is from diagnosis of primary breast to the metastatic spread in the brain in patients. The researchers found that almost half of the tumours had changes in the way they repair their DNA. Therefore it makes these tumours vulnerable to an existing type of drug known as a PARP inhibitor. PARP inhibitor drugs work by preventing cancer cells to repair their DNA, which therefore results in the cancer cells dying.

Professor Leonie Young, the study’s Principal Investigator commented.

“There are inadequate treatment options for people with breast cancer that has spread to the brain. Therefore we urgently need research focussed on expanding treatment options. Our study represents an important development in getting one step closer to a potential treatment for patients.”

“By uncovering these new vulnerabilities in DNA pathways in brain metastasis, our research opens up the possibility of novel treatment strategies. This is for patients who previously had limited targeted therapy options”, said study author Dr Damir Varešlija.

The research, led by Beaumont RCSI Cancer Centre investigators Professor Leonie Young, Dr Nicola Cosgrove, Dr Damir Varešlija in addition to Professor Arnold Hill. It was carried out in collaboration with the Mayo Clinic and University of Pittsburgh, USA.

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