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Doctors may be able to spare cancer patients diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer from the harsh effects of chemotherapy in a few short years.

Researchers from the Irish Cancer Society cancer research centre ‘BREAST-PREDICT’ have developed a tool which may predict how effective chemotherapy is likely to be in treating patients with this particular form of cancer.

Over 250 people are diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer in Ireland annually, a form of breast cancer that is often aggressive, difficult to treat, and occurs more common in younger women.

Researchers at RCSI in Dublin have identified a mathematical formula on cells with triple negative breast cancer to predict how effective chemotherapy would be in killing them and, by using this formula in the lab, the research team now predicts that triple negative breast cancer cells may respond to a new drug that is already under use as a treatment for some leukaemia patients. Their study showed that BCL2 inhibitors can enhance the response of cancer cells to chemotherapy.

Dr Robert O’Connor, Head of Cancer Research at the Irish Cancer Society, commented that, although in the early stages, this advancement could lay the foundations for life-saving cancer research.

This research was led by Irish Cancer Society-funded PhD student Federico Lucantoni, under the supervision of Jochen Prehn, Professor of Physiology and Director of the RCSI’s Centre for Systems Medicine.

Professor Prehn stated: “At the moment the only form of drug treatment available to patients with triple-negative breast cancer is chemotherapy. While this will work well for some patients, others may find that their cancer cells don’t respond as well as might be hoped to chemo, leading to patients suffering the side effects of this treatment without any of the desired outcomes.

“We hope that, if successful in further testing, our research may one day allow doctors to give women more tailored and effective treatments, and spare the harsh side-effects of chemotherapy in women who are unlikely to respond well to it“.

The research team’s findings were recently published in the Nature journal ‘Cell Death and Disease’. They are now continuing this research by testing their formula in more advanced breast cancer models in the laboratory, which will fine-tune their work to potentially make it suitable for patient trials.