A NEW cancer study in Glasgow could pave the way to a treatment to stop the growth of an aggressive form of breast cancer which is more common in younger women.

Scientists from the city's Beatson Institute for Cancer Research are set to investigate whether the drug devimistat could be used in patients with triple negative breast cancer.

More than 700 women a year in Scotland are diagnosed with this rarer form of the disease, but current treatment options are mostly limited to a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy.

Younger women and black women also make up a disproportionate share of diagnoses.

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It is thought that devimistat - which is already being explored as a possible therapy for pancreatic cancer and relapsed leukaemia - could target protein molecules known as PDH, which encourage breast cancer cells to spread other parts of the body where the disease becomes incurable.

The novel approach will be tested on mice in a trial funded by Breast Cancer Now.

Professor Sara Zanivan, who will lead the research, said it has the potential to "halt the growth of triple negative breast cancer".

She added: “We know that breast cancer cells communicate with other non-cancer cells nearby, which helps breast cancer tumours grow and survive.

"It’s really important that we continue to increase our understanding of this activity, as it may uncover much needed new ways to treat the disease."

The Herald: The Beatson cancer centre, GlasgowThe Beatson cancer centre, Glasgow

Prof Zanivan previously discovered that the cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) found in triple negative breast cancer can support cancer cell growth by making high amounts of PDH.

CAFs are a type of non-cancer cell found in large numbers inside breast tumours which can generate molecules that influence the behaviour of cancer cells - for example, encouraging them to grow or to migrate to other organs.

The new study will explore how PDH in particular helps triple negative breast cancer cells to spread, and whether devimistat can be used to attack it.

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Around 15 per cent of breast cancer cases are 'triple negative'.

The term refers to a diverse group of breast cancers that lack the three molecules normally used to classify the disease: the oestrogen receptor (ER), progesterone receptor (PR), and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2).

While these molecules have been used successfully to develop a variety of targeted treatments for other types of breast cancer, their absence in triple negative breast cancer means options are limited to treatments with more gruelling side effects which either directly target cancer cells or affect all rapidly growing cells in the body.

Devimistat would work by curbing the mechanisms which enable non-cancer cells to support cancer growth, without actually destroying any cells.

Dr Kotryna Temcinaite, senior research communications manager at Breast Cancer Now, said: “The knowledge we’re gaining from Professor Zanivan’s research gives us real hope for the future.

"With a greater understanding of how triple negative breast cancer cells grow and survive, we can find new ways to stop breast cancer tumours spreading and becoming incurable."

Dr Temcinaite also appealed for donations to help fund new and ongoing research, after the pandemic slashed fundraising income. 

Janette Campbell, from Glasgow, was just 44 when she was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in 2009.

"My oncologist said the cancer would come back within a year and I wouldn’t survive five more years," said Ms Campbell.

"I was told my only hope was chemotherapy and there were no other options after that. The way I was told about triple negative breast cancer felt like a death sentence."

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In 2012, a PET scan detected cancer in her chest wall and in 2014 routine tests revealed that the disease had spread to her lungs.

She said: "I didn’t know that the cancer moving to another part of the body made it terminal, but after the cancer came back I was told it is and that I would need to be on chemo for the rest of my life.

“Triple negative breast cancer is a very scary cancer. The survival rate is so low, I was diagnosed 12 years ago but sometimes feel like I shouldn’t be here.

"Generally, I feel positive day to day, but I have been through a lot of hospital appointments with different girls with triple negative who are no longer here.

“This research from Breast Cancer Now would have given me a lot of hope when I was first diagnosed.

"Triple negative breast cancer is so aggressive that I was prepared for the cancer to come back, but the more research done into this disease the better.

"Rather than just relying on chemotherapy we need more options for women who are diagnosed, and hopefully this research can find new ways to treat the disease.”