The hunt for breast
cancer stem cells
Dr Alex Swarbrick received a Novel Concept Award from NBCF in 2008 to look for evidence that breast cancers contain cells that are able to self renew. Recent research has suggested that these cells (known as stem cells) are resistant to therapy and are responsible for the movement of cancer to other sites in the body.
“We have found good evidence that rare cells within breast cancers are able to regenerate a complete tumour,” said Dr Swarbrick, Leader of the Tumour Progression Group at the Garvan Institute.
“This grant from NBCF has allowed us to develop a method to purify these breast cancer stem cells. Now we can study these cells in detail, to understand their basic biology and find their weaknesses.”
Investment in this project may have high returns for breast cancer patients as Alex and his team hope to generate new treatments with fewer side effects and greater impact on survival.
“When combined with chemotherapy to shrink the tumour, we hope that these new drugs will kill the cells and prevent the tumour from recurring,” said Dr Swarbrick.
The Novel Concept Awards were introduced by NBCF to fund innovative projects like this one that may not receive funding from other sources. These Awards receive a large number of applications each year and have enabled Dr Swarbrick to develop enough evidence to fund more research into these important cells.