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Breakthrough on aggressive breast cancer treatment for Irish-led team


UCD Professor William Gallagher

UCD Professor William Gallagher

UCD Professor William Gallagher

An Irish-led team of scientists has discovered a new way to treat an aggressive form of breast cancer which mainly affects young women.

Researchers, led by UCD's Professor William Gallagher, identified a drug that is effective at treating the growth of triple-negative breast cancer.

It is the most difficult to treat form of cancer in the breast and has limited treatment options, although it can be treated with chemotherapy. About one in five women diagnosed with breast cancer are affected by the triple-negative form.

While the new treatment requires more research before it becomes available, it is hoped that it will eventually help patients to live longer lives.

Research has shown that sufferers of this form of cancer have a high level of a protein called CDK7. In a remarkable breakthrough, scientists found a drug called THZ-1, which acts on that protein and can be used to stop cancer cells developing.

Treating triple-negative breast cancer cells grown in the laboratory with THZ-1 halted their growth, both on its own and in combination with other treatments.

Prof Gallagher praised the work of researchers in identifying the potential treatment.

"This study has uncovered an important new treatment possibility for patients with triple-negative breast cancer, a particularly aggressive subtype of the disease. This success was only possible through a concerted team-based approach from multiple national and international collaborators," he said.

This study was supported by the Irish Cancer Society Collaborative Cancer Research Centre Breast-Predict and the EU-funded RATHER project, an international research consortium focused on tackling difficult-to-treat subtypes of breast cancer.

The team said further research would be needed before the treatment could be used on patients. However, the work has been described as "a key step" in opening up a wider range of new and less toxic treatment options for triple-negative breast cancer patients.


Dr Robert O'Connor, head of research at the Irish Cancer Society, hailed the development as a significant milestone in the work of Breast-Predict.

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He said: "Prof Gallagher has been pivotal in overseeing the work of more than 50 breast cancer researchers, funded by generous donations to the Irish Cancer Society.

"Through his leadership, Breast-Predict is making huge strides in breast cancer research, making new discoveries about these cancers which will potentially lead to more ways to prevent, detect and treat the disease and ensure more cancer survivors live longer, happier lives," he said.

The RATHER research consortium involves the efforts of six universities, including UCD, the University of Cambridge and Lund University, Sweden.

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