A Western Australian cancer researcher is on a mission to blow the cover of a highly aggressive and difficult-to-detect form of breast cancer and believes a mysterious protein could hold the key to the breakthrough.
Though it belongs to the most common – and generally easy to treat – group of breast cancers (oestrogen receptor (ER) positive cancers), this rogue cancer is difficult to control and returns rapidly.
While Fiona Stanley Hospital oncologist Dr Indunil Weerasena likens it to a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” because there is no known way of distinguishing it from the rest of the ER positive flock, he hopes that with the aid of a McGowan Government-funded Cancer Research Fellowship, he can find a way.
Dr Weerasena’s research follows important new findings, made by other local researchers, about the mysterious protein called AAMDC.
This research showed that AAMDC not only hastened cancer cell proliferation but also made them resistant to the hormone and chemotherapies that were commonly used to fight ER positive breast cancers.
High levels of AAMDC happen to be found in a subtype of cancer known as IC2. This subtype is known to have high rates of recurrence as well as resistance to contemporary chemotherapy regimes.
Dr Weerasena’s project will determine whether the rogue ER positive cancer is an IC2 subtype.
His findings could pave the way for the earlier identification of these cancers and more effective treatments, potentially with older chemotherapy regimes.
Parallels between breast and ovarian cancer mean Dr Weerasena’s research may also have further benefits for the treatment of some ovarian cancer patients.
Dr Weerasena is one of seven researchers awarded a Cancer Research Fellowship in the WA Cancer and Palliative Care Network program.
More than $1.2 million will be distributed this year in the program that was established in 2014 to enable medical practitioners working in the WA Health system to expand their cancer expertise and research skills.
As stated by Health Minister Roger Cook:
“WA was recently found to be setting a world benchmark in cancer survival rates. The McGowan Government is backing research like this to ensure we continue to lead the way in best-practice cancer care.”
“This project is an example of some of the fantastic cancer research that is taking place in Western Australia that could pave the way for earlier cancer detection and treatment. This is another example of the McGowan Government putting patients first.”
Minister’s office – 6552 6500
The full recipient list is:
Timothy Humphries, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital
Integrating Tumour Mutational Burden testing for appropriate selection of immune-oncology therapy in metastatic melanoma
Andy Hutchison, Fiona Stanley Hospital
Implementation of Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy in Western Australia
Azim Khan, Fiona Stanley Hospital
Defeating Breast Cancer Disadvantage in the Indigenous population
Annalise Martin, Royal Perth Hospital
Precision Medicine, identification of novel drug targets for Acute Myeloid Leukaemia in Western Australia through analysis
Indunil Weerasena, Fiona Stanley Hospital
Integrated Cluster 2 Breast Cancers: The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
Courtney Wood, Perth Children’s Hospital
Paediatric Palliative Care Fellowship