Irish breast cancer research centre to be first of its kind

Unique collaboration to encourage women to contribute tissue to biobank

John McCormack, Irish Cancer Society, Prof John Fitzpatrick, breast cancer survivor Sharon Burrell and Prof William Gallagher. Photograph: Robbie Reynolds

John McCormack, Irish Cancer Society, Prof John Fitzpatrick, breast cancer survivor Sharon Burrell and Prof William Gallagher. Photograph: Robbie Reynolds

 


Women diagnosed with breast cancer are to be asked to contribute tumour tissue to a national biobank which will be used to monitor treatments for the disease.

Breast Predict, the first nationwide collaboration of its kind in the world, will encourage women to contribute to the biobank as part of their treatment.

The tissues will be used for experiments to determine how the disease arose and how it responds to treatment.

If a patient consents, blood or tissue samples will be taken at regular intervals during their treatment to assess how various therapies work.

The 50 researchers who will be involved in the five-year programme will hope to advance studies into targeted therapies that are either replacing or complementing chemotherapy in treatments for the disease.

Doctors are trying to move away from chemotherapy to therapies that are less harsh and are suited to the gene make-up of the patients involved. A key question they will seek to answer is why taking prescription aspirin appears to have a protective effect in terms of the disease.

About a quarter of all women diagnosed with breast cancer have taken prescription aspirin before diagnosis and it appears to have a positive impact on outcomes from the disease. The researchers are hopeful they will have definite results from that area of study within a year.

Another area of research will be the positive impact that statins seem to have on women with breast cancer who receive hormone therapy, which is now one of the main treatments for breast cancer.

“Before you can prove it, you have to go out there and do experiments,” said Breast Predict director Prof William Gallagher from UCD.

“This is unique because all the breast cancer researchers in the entire country are on board. There are lots of great cancer collaborations around the world, but this is unique in being focused on a particular aspect of the disease and on a nationwide level.”

Some 2,500 Irish women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. All eight cancer care centres of excellence in Ireland will be involved in the collaboration.

Survival rates from breast cancer after five years are at 85 per cent, one of the highest for any cancer, but doctors believe it could be improved.

Consultant oncologist Dr Cathy Kelly said breast cancer treatments were improving all the time, but there was still a cohort of women who die from the disease. “The remarkable thing about breast cancer is that, even within the space of a year, things can change,” she said.