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Cancer

WE USED TO SEE CANCER IN GENERAL TERMS

Now our aim is more targeted.

Targeting cancerEvery year, around 50,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s the most common cancer in the UK. Around five per cent of breast cancer patients carry a mutation in one of two genes: BRCA1 or BRCA2.

Specialists at King's College London and Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust are carrying out groundbreaking research which has great potential to develop a new treatment for patients with one of these two genes. 

At the forefront of this work is Professor Andrew Tutt, Director of the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Unit at King's, and one of the UK’s leading experts in breast cancer research. He explains: ‘Breast cancer was once thought of as one disease; now it is thought of as many. If you can understand the biology of a sub-population of the disease, you might be more successful in treating it.’

The treatment we’re working on at King's is the first shown clinical application of a principle known as 'synthetic lethality', in which two different DNA repair mechanisms have been disabled. 

The cancerous cells with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation already have a faulty repair mechanism, so by targeting the second repair mechanism, we may be able to directly target and kill cancer cells. This method therefore allows healthy cells to remain unharmed, so they can still survive with one faulty repair mechanism.

The method relies on PARP inhibitors – compounds that inhibit the action of a crucial second DNA repair mechanism in cancerous cells. PARP inhibitors are also thought to be a potential treatment for other diseases, such as stroke and long-term neuro-degenerative diseases.

Professor Tutt continues: ‘We’ve had very promising results: this targeted approach may have value for women with this form of disease. Our research  has shown that studying the biology of the causes of breast cancer can be taken through and tested in trials. It’s helping us get to the stage where drugs can be used in the clinic as fast as possible.’

The breakthroughs Professor Tutt and his team have made are improving the health and chances of people both in the UK and around the world. 

However, they can only continue this work because of the generosity of donors. Please help them carry on this vital research by making a donation today.

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Further reading

How can breast cancer patients experience fewer side effects?
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How do we reduce brain damage in newborns?

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