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21st November 2022

Researchers on track to solve ‘aggressiveness’ in triple negative breast cancer

Philip Gregory 2

Adelaide researchers have made incredible progress in understanding how triple negative breast cancers (TNBC) become more aggressive.

Triple negative breast cancer accounts for 10-20 per cent of all breast cancers, but are the most deadly.

They are a diverse group of tumours but all share a common lack of three receptors – oestrogen receptor, progesterone receptor and human epidermal growth factor receptor.

These cancers spread more easily to other organs and have limited treatment options. They are treated with chemotherapy, however TNBC tumour cells often survive and regrow.

Thanks to your donations, researchers at the Centre for Cancer Biology have investigated how the previously unstudied protein ZCCHC24 promotes aggressive features in triple negative breast cancers.

Associate Professor Philip Gregory said the study found the protein ZCCHC24 causes aggressiveness in two ways.

“It causes breast cancer cells to change their physical properties making them more able to move and spread,’’ A/Prof Gregory said.

“It also changes their ability to metabolise nutrients so that are more likely to survive in adverse conditions.

“Adverse conditions might be stressful conditions, such as low oxygen levels (in the tumour) or when the breast cancer cells reach a distant site (eg the lung).

“These are both hallmarks of breast cancers that become aggressive and spread or metastasise.’’

This study also found that a reduction in the levels of the protein ZCCHC24 dramatically reduces the aggressiveness of triple-negative breast cancer cells.

“We have identified using specialised techniques all the gene products that ZCCHC24 interacts with,’’ A/Prof Gregory said.

“These are providing important clues as to how ZCCHC24 is causing aggressive features in breast cancer.’’

This project has also generated new data which has formed the basis of national and international grant applications submitted this year.

The next part of the project is investigating how ZCCHC24 is causing both changes in a cell’s structure and their ability to metabolise nutrients at the same time.

“If we discover they are linked, it will open new therapeutic avenues to potentially limit multiple processes that control aggressive features in breast cancer.

“The best outcome is that we have discovered a potential role for a never-before studied protein in controlling the aggressiveness of breast cancer cells.’’

Thank you to all our donors for making this research possible!