June 23, 2024

Scientists say they have made a potentially “game-changing” breakthrough in breast cancer research after discovering how to preserve breast tissue outside the body for at least a week.

The study, which was funded by the Prevent Breast Cancer charity, found that tissue can be preserved in a special gel solution, which will help scientists identify the most effective drug treatments for patients.

Experts found the preserved breast tissue retained its structure, cell types and ability to respond to a range of drugs in the same way as normal breast tissue.

Published in the Journal of Mammary Gland Biology and Neoplasia, the research could support the development of new drugs to treat and prevent breast cancer, without the need to test on animals.

Dr Hannah Harrison, a research fellow at the University of Manchestersaid the discovery will help scientists test the most suitable drugs on living tissue for the treatment and prevention of breast cancer.

She said: “There are several risk-reducing options for women at high risk of developing breast cancer – for example, those with a significant family history or who have mutations in the BRCA. [breast cancer] genes.

“However, not all drugs work for all women. This new approach means we can begin to determine which drugs will work for which women by measuring their impact on living tissue.

“Ultimately, this means that women can take the most effective drug for their particular genetic makeup.”

Harrison and her team succeeded in keeping breast tissue viable outside the body for relatively long periods of time. “By testing different hydrogel formulas, we were able to find a solution that preserves human breast tissue for at least a week — and often even longer,” she said.

“This is a real game changer for breast cancer research in many ways. We can better test drugs for both the prevention and treatment of cancer, and can investigate how factors such as breast density – which we know is a risk factor for breast cancer – on specific hormones or chemicals respond to see if it has an impact on cancer development.”

Scientists used the gel solution VitroGel to preserve the tissue.

In their work, they said the identification of new drugs was “hampered by a lack of good pre-clinical models”.

What has been available so far cannot “fully address the complexity of the human tissue, with a lack of human extracellular matrix, stroma and immune cells, all of which are known to influence the therapy response”, they said.

Lester Barr, a consultant breast surgeon and founder of Prevent Breast Cancer, said: “Breast cancer deaths are falling in the UK thanks to improved screening and treatment options, but incidence is still rising and breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK become.

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“It is therefore very important that we develop new prevention and risk reduction options for women, especially for those at high risk due to their family history or genetics.

“This breakthrough means researchers will be able to test new drugs in the laboratory with much greater precision, which should lead to fewer drugs failing in clinical trials and ultimately better outcomes for women affected by this terrible disease.

“This is an extremely exciting development in animal-free research that puts us in a very strong position to find new drugs to prevent breast cancer.”

On average, almost 56,000 women a year in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer, according to figures from Cancer Research UK.

Worldwide, breast cancer is the second most common form of cancer responsible for 11.6% of newly diagnosed cancer casesbehind lung cancer which accounts for 12.4% of new cases, according to the World Health Organization.

But survival rates for breast cancer have improved significantly. Women diagnosed with early breast cancer are 66% less likely to die from the disease than they were 20 years ago, according to research from the University of Oxford.

Figures from Cancer UK show that 76% of breast cancer patients survive for 10 years or more.

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