A YOUNG Irish researcher is the first in the world to test a new drug that could improve the way chemotherapy works against breast cancer.
The research is a first step in examining if the drug has a role in reducing the chances of cancer cells becoming resistant to chemotherapy.
Patricia Cleary, a Galway-based research scholar, received funding worth €120,000 over three years from the Irish Cancer Society to test the new drug in a laboratory.
The Phd student in NUI Galway said cancer cells should come under pressure and become "stressed" when they are blasted with chemotherapy treatment.
However, they can also learn how to get around these stresses and a "survival factor" has already been identified, which allows the cells to resist the chemotherapy.
If the cancer progresses during or soon after treatment, it may mean that it has become resistant – and a different drug is needed.
Even tumours that initially respond to chemotherapy can eventually become resistant to it.
It can have deadly consequences for people with cancer that has spread, including those with breast cancer.
But the research is looking at a drug that can "turn off" the cancer cells' survival factor during chemotherapy.
Ms Cleary explained: "I am looking at a new drug that no one in the world is currently working with in breast cancer that stops the survival factor from working in breast cancer cells.
"Initial findings from my study are very positive and show that if I take the survival factor away, the cells grow much slower. It may aid current chemotherapeutic drugs to kill breast cancer more efficiently."
The next stage would involve testing it on animals before moving on to conducting trials among breast cancer patients.
She added: "While the research is only in its early stages, I believe if we continue to see such positive results with this drug, it will eventually allow us to create treatments that can be used alongside chemotherapy to increase the likelihood of patient survival."
Prof John Fitzpatrick, head of research at the Irish Cancer Society, pointed out that one-in-10 women in Ireland will develop breast cancer during their lifetime.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the charity has a "Get the Girls" campaign under way for female friends to raise money with gatherings such as a night out at the movies.
Visit www.cancer.ie, or contact the Irish Cancer Society helpline on 1800 200 700.