Breast cancer study to help Windsor women first

Women in Windsor-Essex will benefit first from a new study that is trying to help women with one of the worst forms of breast cancer.

University of Windsor biology researcher Lisa Porter and Windsor Regional Hospital oncologist Dr. Carolyn Hamm recently received more than $765,000 to study triple-negative breast cancer.

Cancer cells from tumours from about 100 patients will be put in mice so Porter’s lab can look for better drugs for patients who don’t respond well to current chemotherapy drugs. Porter also wants to know if there is a way to predict, prior to treatment, whether patients will respond to specific chemotherapies. It’s important because triple-negative breast cancer patients have to rely only on chemotherapy and some don’t fare well on the treatment because they have high levels of a protein that Porter studies.

“This kind of research occurring in Windsor is very important for patients because it brings the latest ideas to something that right now there is no current thing we can do for those patients,” Porter said Thursday.

The five-year funding came from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The study can’t help patients directly in the first five years but will produce an abundance of information on drugs tested in mice against a patient’s specific tumour. Porter said five-year survival rates are good so patients with triple-negative breast cancer who got to five years could benefit.

“The very first time these drugs come out we’ll know what patients would benefit from that drug so if they relapsed or if they do relapse we would have the latest, greatest thing available for them right away.”

One in eight women get breast cancer in Canada and 10 to 20 per cent of those are triple-negative breast cancer, she said. Triple-negative breast cancer is an aggressive cancer that commonly affects younger women. It gets its name from three different proteins that patients lack, she said. Because there are drugs that target those proteins patients without them have fewer treatment options.

Survival rates for women with triple-negative breast cancer range from 90 to 100 per cent survival when it is caught early to about 20 per cent survival in those with Stage IV cancer, she said.

Porter and her post doctoral lab in San Diego first isolated in human form a protein dubbed Speedy or Spy1 in 2003. This protein encourages cells to continue to divide. Speedy or Spy1 is found in high levels in some cancers and research suggests that’s why some patients with lots of the Speedy proteins don’t respond as well as others to chemotherapy. Porter said chemotherapy works by forcing cancer cells to stop dividing and if there are a lot of these proteins the cells keep dividing and spreading.

There isn’t going to be one miracle cure for all cancers but Porter said if you find a drug to work for a group of cancer patients then it would be a miracle for that group.

You can’t offer to be in the study. An oncologist will ask patients if their tissue can be used.

Source: The Windsor Star