Our research has identified specific molecules that are required for tumours to grow and spread. This opens new ways to treat breast and other cancers and improve the outcome of patients with this disease.
New Zealand has one of the highest rates of breast cancer in the world. It is the leading cause of cancer deaths among New Zealand women and one in eight women will be affected during their lifetime. Substantial improvements in the way breast cancer is treated have occurred over the last 20-30 years, and the mortality rate has been steadily declining. However, a significant number of New Zealand women still die from breast cancer or suffer from recurrent disease. It is important that we find new strategies for treating this disease.
Cancer cells can produce molecules which enhance cancer cell growth and survival and promote tumour progression. Some of the most successful strategies for treating cancers such as breast cancer or melanoma are targeted therapies, which target molecules whose function has been altered or upregulated in the tumour and that are necessary for tumours to grow and spread. Often these therapies offer substantial benefits when combined with conventional chemotherapies or radiation therapy.
The role of growth hormone
Growth hormone is essential for normal health and development, but raised tumour levels are implicated in the development and spread of some cancers such as breast cancer and endometrial cancer. Our research has identified that an approach that inhibits the growth hormone receptor may be an effective strategy to improve radiotherapy outcomes and explores the use of growth hormone receptor inhibitors as a targeted therapy for cancer.
Improving radiotherapy outcomes by targeting hormone receptors
Radiotherapy is a primary treatment for many cancers but it can be ineffective for some patients. One approach to improve efficacy is to combine radiotherapy with radiosensitising drugs that make tumour cells more vulnerable to radiation by targeting crucial growth and survival mechanisms. Our research has identified that drugs that block the growth hormone receptor are a novel class of radiosensitiser and combining them with radiotherapy may improve treatment outcomes. Ongoing studies will determine which cancer types respond to this treatment approach.
Development of novel growth hormone receptor antagonists
We have evidence to indicate that an approach that inhibits the growth hormone receptor might be an effective strategy to improve radiotherapy outcomes. Through a multi-disciplinary collaboration we have developed a drug discovery pipeline and are exploring novel approaches to inhibit activation of the receptor in cancer.