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Research may help shed light on breast cancer treatments

The FRAME Alternatives Laboratory is well known for its research into skin and liver models with the focus on cosmetic and drug, research and development. However, much of the current research happening in the lab is to increase understanding of human disease and treatments.

This research makes use of human tissue where others may use less relevant animal models, which may not respond in the same way to drugs. For example, animal models of cancer do not show the level of variability that we see in patients and the differences between the tumours of individual patients – even if they have cancer of the same tissue – can be hugely important in determining the success of treatment.

The FRAME Alternatives Laboratory is currently collaborating with the Human Biomaterials Resource Centre (HBRC) at the University of Birmingham on a project looking at genetic markers for predicting the success of neoadjuvant chemotherapy (treatment before surgery) in breast cancer patients.

So far, whole genome sequencing has been carried out on a small sample of breast cancer patients who have followed the same chemotherapy regime. In some patients, the treatment completely removed any tumours present in the breast tissue and lymph nodes, whilst other patients showed little response to the chemotherapy.

When looking at the patient’s tumour gene express profile, a gene was identified which is more highly expressed in the tumours of women that responded well to the treatment. This gene, known as PIGR, codes for the polymorphic immunoglobin receptors found on epithelial cells.

The next stages of the research include looking into the function of the PIGR gene and how it may influence response to chemotherapy and obtaining more patient samples to study PIGR expression in a large sample of breast cancer patients. This will help to establish whether the PIGR gene could potentially be a marker for predicting patient response to chemotherapy. If so, this information could be useful in helping to select a treatment regime for a patient and potentially avoiding the use of chemotherapy that will have little effect.

The research, which is being carried out by PhD student Wichitra Asanprakit, highlights the importance of biobanks in allowing scientists access to human tissue.

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