Creating new biomarkers in breast cancer research

Friday 23 October 2020

The phrase ‘it’s not a sprint but a marathon’ can be applied to breast cancer research done at Mater Research. In the past decade advances in care and treatment have opened more opportunities to research previously unknown areas in breast cancer.

In his role as an Anatomical Pathologist, Dr Cameron Snell has been running his marathon with finding a cure at the microscopic and molecular level.

“Breast cancer is not just one disease—there are many different types of breast cancer with treatment depending on the molecular characterisation of the tumour. At Mater Pathology, we take biopsies or samples of these tumours and test them in our research labs to determine how to best treat patients,” Dr Snell said.

“Currently, the standard bio-markers that we use, oestrogen, progesterone and HER2 receptors, have remained unchanged for twenty years. As it’s been so long since any advancements have occurred it’s vital we create new biomarkers to predict how patients will respond to newer treatments and give them the best chance of a good response.”

Dr Snell’s work currently refines existing tumour bio-markers while developing new markers to more accurately predict how patients will respond to particular treatments, based on their type of cancer.

“We aim to deliver the most effective treatment during a time called the ‘curability window’ – after the tumour has been removed surgically - so we have the best chance of curing more women with breast cancer.”

The team’s work Improved relapse-free survival on aromatase inhibitors in breast cancer is associated with interaction between oestrogen receptor-α and progesterone receptor-b, published in the British Journal of Cancer, reports pre-clinical findings  that activated progesterone receptor (PR) bound to oestrogen receptor-α (ER) could be reprogramming signalling to create better breast cancer outcomes.

“Two years on and we are now doing something called explant cultures where we treat fragments of live tumour samples donated by Mater patients with different drugs with the aim of establishing whether these new drugs in development will be effective against breast cancer,” Dr Snell said.

The work is made possible from collaborations from UniQuest, Professor John Hooper’s lab at the Translational Research Institute Australia (TRI), The University of Queensland and several different labs across Queensland.

With support from Mater Foundation and Equity Trustees, Dr Snell has been able to conduct his research from patients who have donated their tissue. He has also been able to study a large cohort of women, over decades, due to such campaigns as Mater Chicks in Pink and the RACQ International Women’s Day Fun Run allowing patients, doctors and those affected by breast cancer to walk as one.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and it’s from the work of researchers like Dr Snell that we will see better outcomes for breast cancer patients.

Find out more about how you can help breast cancer research today.