New instrumentation allows Mater Researchers to visualise breast cancer cells as they die

Thursday 03 May 2018

A team of researchers led by Professor Gregory Monteith from Mater Research and UQ School of Pharmacy have developed a new way to visualise breast cancer cells as they die.

Combining advanced instrumentation with a new generation of probes has allowed Professor Monteith and his team to see what happens inside living cancer cells as they die. This signal, usually only viewed for minutes at a time, can now be assessed continually over a whole day.

“This is like being able to read the whole book, not just the first chapter,” Professor Monteith said.

“This work is the first time these methods have been combined to study how breast cancer cells can be killed, we believe it will continue to allow us to find new ways to therapeutically target triple negative breast cancers” Professor Monteith said.

Approximately 15 per cent of breast cancers are triple negative and it is this breast cancer subtype that has been identified as where there is the greatest need for better drugs with fewer side effects.

Triple negative breast cancer is different from other types of breast cancer because it does not have high levels of the three receptors typically found in other breast cancer cells – oestrogen (ER), progesterone (PR) and HER2 receptors.

ER and PR type cancers often respond to hormone therapies that deprive the cancer of the hormone it needs to grow while HER2 type cancers respond to targeted therapies that use specific drugs to treat women with this type of breast cancer.

Professor Monteith will use this discovery and others in his laboratory to drive more targeted approaches for triple negative breast cancer therapy.

“While more research is needed to develop new therapeutic treatments, this research could provide hope for women in the future who face a lack of effective therapies available for their specific breast cancer,” Professor Monteith said.

The work will be published in the journal Cell Calcium in June:(

Video description - This movie shows triple negative breast cancer cells treated with an agent known to cause cancer cell death. The entire movie represents 24 hours. In the movie increases in green indicate those cancer cells which are undergoing changes in a signal that the cancer cell uses to control specific processes. Increases in this signal (green) often precede the death of the cancer cells which is indicated by the cells turning red.