A quarter of all women who suffer from breast cancer are at risk of metastasis - a recurrence of the cancer. In recent years, researchers at Lund University, Sweden, have developed a technique that can identify in advance which patients belong to this risk group. Within the next two years the method will be tested in Swedish hospitals. In the future, the technique may also be used in hospitals in other countries.
This, together with other research within the Breast Cancer Initiative, as the project is called, has been awarded SEK 25 million from the Swedish innovation agency Vinnova. The project is part of the interdisciplinary cancer centre Create Health, where immunologists, tumour biologists, nanotechnologists, bioinformaticians and cancer researchers work together.
"This campaign means that our research can benefit patients earlier," comments Carl Borrebaeck, Professor of Immunotechnology at Lund University and programme director for Create Health.
He and his colleagues aim to significantly shorten the waiting times for test results and information about continued treatment. The idea is to build a diagnostic clinic next to the operating theatre. The tumour can then be analysed while the patient is still on the operating table and the surgeon, oncologist and pathologist can together make a diagnosis and decide on the right treatment.
The research is based on a unique technique developed by the researchers in Lund. By analysing patterns of biomarkers, or protein molecules, in the blood, it is possible to obtain information about what type of cancer the patient has and what the prognosis is.
"We also map the tumour cells' genome. Using this map, we can find out how responses to different types of treatment may relate to specific genes. This knowledge could be of great help in selecting the right treatment," says Carl Borrebaeck.
The Create Health group is also in the process of developing a breast cancer index. Blood and tissue samples from patients with breast tumours are analysed on both protein and gene level and a unique 'fingerprint' of each tumour is obtained.
"Our aim is to analyse all the tumours in southern Sweden. This collection of samples also improves the collaboration between clinicians and researchers, as well as the chances to be able to quickly implement our research results in a clinical setting," emphasises Carsten Rose, Professor of Oncology and head of division at Skåne University Hospital.
When it comes to the work on early identification of which patients are at risk of metastasis, the research has come a long way and has now entered its final stage.
"Currently, all women receive the same harsh treatment. However, with our technique it is possible to select which patients actually need it, and therefore also which only need a significantly milder treatment. The improved prognosis can reduce side-effects and unnecessary suffering for the patient, as well as saving a lot of money," says Carsten Rose.
The Breast Cancer Initiative is part of Create Health, which comprises projects run by professors Åke Borg (oncology), Peter James (proteomics), Carl Borrebaeck (cancer immunology) and Carsten Rose (oncology).
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