New ways of diagnosing and treating breast cancer found

Photo: The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - Scientists at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) have made discoveries that could lead to new ways of diagnosing and treating breast cancer.

The two research institutes under A*STAR involved in the study are Bioinformatics Institute (BII) and Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS).

According to a press statement by A*STAR, BII scientists identified and characterised two new major classes of Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC), which are malignant tumours. Malignant tumours comprise about 80 per cent of all breast cancers.

In a separate study, scientists from GIS discovered a molecular mechanism, triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), that can be targeted to treat a more aggressive type of breast cancer.

The researchers identified a crucial protein whose increased activity promotes breast cancer metastasis and resistance to paclitaxel, which is an agent to treat breast cancer.

In addition, treating this pathway may also contribute to the prevention of tumour recurrence, which is the main reason for breast cancer patient mortality.

While increased awareness of the need for early detection has led to improved survival in breast cancer patients, the development of improved treatment strategies remains important to further reduce mortality rates, A*STAR says.

Breast cancer is the most frequent cancer diagnosed amongst women, with an estimated 1.67 million new cancer cases worldwide in 2012.

In Singapore, more than 9,000 women were diagnosed with breast cancer between 2010 and 2014, according to A*STAR. Breast cancer is also the leading cause of cancer death in females in Singapore.

Dr Benjamin Seet, executive director of A*STAR's Biomedical Research Council, said: "These findings advance our understanding of breast cancer, which is the most common cancer affecting women in Singapore.

"More importantly, it allows us to develop precise and effective treatment strategies for these particular types of breast cancer, as well as to discover new drugs for the patients who do not get better."

stephluo@sph.com.sg