New biomarker to help decide best treatment? - Latest news • Breast Cancer Foundation NZ

New biomarker to help decide best treatment?

Research findings published in prestigious British Journal of Cancer

New Zealand research scientists and clinicians along with collaborators in the United Kingdom, Singapore and China are a step closer to bringing a new clinical tool or biomarker, to guide clinical decision-making in the management of breast cancer, to market.

Dong-Xu Liu, Associate Professor at AUT and the lead researcher of this study, received a $200,000 grant for his work from the Breast Cancer Research Partnership of the Health Research Council, Breast Cancer Cure and Breast Cancer Foundation NZ. Breast Cancer Foundation NZ gave two additional grants totalling $160,000.

Evangelia Henderson, Chief Executive at Breast Cancer Foundation NZ, says, “Biomarkers and tests that predict with a high degree of accuracy how well a patient will respond to breast cancer treatment will play a huge role in reducing deaths. We look forward to seeing what happens next as a result of Dr Liu’s excellent study.”

The new bio-marker, a cancer-related protein named SHON (secreted hominoid specific oncogene), has been demonstrated to be significantly associated with breast cancer’s response to treatment. Not only can it accurately predict if a patient will benefit from endocrine therapy, but it can also predict a patient’s response to chemotherapy before surgical removal of the tumour.

Liu says, “Breast cancer is curable if treated in a timely fashion and with the correct therapy.

“We might have found a way to improve the efficacy of endocrine therapy, the most widely used breast cancer treatment for two-thirds of breast cancer patients. We can now predict those who will not respond to the therapy and they may now receive alternative treatment improving their chance of survival from breast cancer and allowing them to lead a quality life after cancer,” he says.

These findings have the potential to change the current clinical practice of breast cancer management around the world. In fact, doctors would have a reliable prognostic tool to use in their treatment decision-making process. The research manuscript has now been accepted for publication in the British Journal of Cancer, a prestigious journal in the field.

Liu says, “Breast cancer affects one in nine New Zealand women in their lifetime and accounts for almost half of the cancers in NZ women. Our findings would allow breast cancer patients to receive treatments that are the most appropriate to their characteristics, therefore improving treatment response and saving lives.”

Annually there are 2.1 million new cases of female breast cancer around the world and despite improved treatment options it is understood that 626,000 women still die from the disease each year. It is also now known that breast cancer is not a single disease, but a complex group of diseases that are highly heterogeneous in their genotype, phenotype, sensitivity to treatment and clinical outcome.

Liu says, “Our next step is to apply for funding for a feasibility study before conducting a randomised control clinical trial in the near future. This is a pivotal point in the research and one we would not have achieved were it not for the support and funding we have received to date. I am indebted to the people and organisations who have stuck with me through this long journey.”