Breast cancer breakthrough by Welsh medical student

A Welsh medical research student has made a scientific breakthrough which could stop people dying from breast cancer by halting the spread of the disease, his university announced Thursday.

Luke Piggott, a Ph. D. student at Cardiff University, Wales, discovered a way to switch off breast cancer stem cells' resistance to a particular drug. Cancer stem cells make up only a small proportion of the cells in a tumor but many scientists believe they are responsible for cancer growth, spread and relapse. They are also highly drug-resistant.

Piggott, a 25 year old research student, managed to make breast cancer cells sensitive to the anti-cancer drug TRAIL, which has not previously been used as a breast cancer treatment as it is blocked by a protein in breast cancer cells. In laboratory experiments, he suppressed the effect of the protein, making the stem cells sensitive to TRAIL. Luke discovered the drug knocked out a protein called c-FLIP which gave stem cells their drug resistance. The method reduced secondary tumors by 98 percent and repeat treatments killed cancer stem cells if they reappeared.

Piggott's supervisor, Richard Clarkson, said, “We believe we have found a crucial 'Achilles heel' in breast cancer stem cells. We can almost completely shut down their ability to spread the disease through the body through secondary tumors. Our success with repeat treatments is also important, offering hope that we can reduce relapse rates of the disease.”

Researchers at the university now plan to expand the study and eventually trial the method on breast cancer in the body. The study is published in the journal Breast Cancer research

Luke Piggott is also a professional ice hockey player for the Cardiff Devils when he is not at his work bench. Luke is in his second year of his PhD which is funded by the Cardiff-based cancer charity Tenovus.

Dr Rachel Greig, of charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said, “This early research represents an interesting approach.”Dr Lisa Wilde, director of research at Breast Cancer Campaign, said, “'More than 12,000 people die each year from breast cancer in the UK, mainly as a result of the disease spreading to other parts of the body. Luke's research is an important early step in understanding the role cancer stem cells play in this process. It could help us develop desperately needed new treatments to halt breast cancer spread in its tracks.”

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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