Sheffield scientist's cash windfall for pioneering breast cancer research

Professor Alison Gartland.
Professor Alison Gartland.

A leading Sheffield scientist has been awarded a cash windfall to fund cutting edge research that aims to stop breast cancer spreading to the bone.

Nearly £200, 000 has been awarded by research charity Breast Cancer Now to Professor Alison Gartland at the University of Sheffield.

Prof Gartland and her team used previous funding for a project that led to the discovery of a molecule called lysyl oxidase, which is released by primary breast tumours and is responsible for making holes in bones. These holes were seen to prepare bone for the arrival of breast cancer cells, increasing the tendency of cancer cells to spread there.

Professor Gartland’s team will now investigate how a second molecule – P2X7R – interacts with LOX to help breast cancer spread, and whether it could be targeted with drugs to stop breast cancer spreading.

If breast cancer spreads around the body – known as secondary breast cancer – it becomes incurable and more than 1,000 women in South Yorkshire are diagnosed with the disease every year.

Prof Gartland said: "With previous funding from Breast Cancer Now, we made the exciting discovery that LOX plays a critical role in helping secondary breast tumours form in the bone.

"We have since found that P2X7R can work with LOX to prepare the bone environment for the arrival of secondary cancer cells, so this Breast Cancer Now grant will enable us to investigate this further.

"We hope to find out whether drugs that block P2X7R, which have already been shown to be safe in clinical trials for arthritis, could prevent cancer spreading to the bone. This would be of great benefit in the fight against this horrendous disease that has such devastating effects."

Dr Richard Berks, senior research communications officer at Breast Cancer Now, added: "If we are to stop people dying from breast cancer, we must find a way to prevent the disease spreading.

"Professor Gartland’s research could help uncover which molecules are vital in helping breast cancer spread to the bones, and identify drugs that might stop this happening.

“Drugs that target P2X7R are already being trialled for treating arthritis, and so this could be a promising avenue of research into preventing the complex process by which breast cancer spreads and becomes incurable.”