CARDIFF, Wales – A Welsh student 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.
However Piggott, 25, 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.
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.