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BIO and MED scientists to shed light on how breast cancer spreads

Breast cancer cells showing microtubules in red and EB protein in green

A team of University of East Anglia scientists are setting out to study if a protein called EB2 could play a role in the spread of breast cancer thanks to £100,000 in funding from the Breast Cancer Campaign.

If breast cancer spreads from the breast to other parts of the body, such as the skeleton, liver, brain and lungs, it can be treated - but not cured – ultimately leading to the majority of the 12,000 deaths from breast cancer in the UK every year.

It is hoped that the research could lead to new treatments to prevent the spread of the disease.

The research is being led by Dr Mette Mogensen, from UEA’s School of Biological Sciences, in collaboration with colleague Dr Jelena Gavrilovic and Dr Anne Girling, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School and the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

The UK’s breast cancer survival rates lag behind the European average and a survey commissioned by Breast Cancer Campaign revealed that only one in four British people are aware of the reality of breast cancer survival in the UK.

Dr Mogensen said: “Microtubules are part of a scaffold structure inside all cells – they help the cells maintain their shape as well as helping them to migrate. The EB2 protein helps to remodel these microtubules for any purpose they may be needed for. Our research has recently discovered that EB2 is found in large amounts in highly invasive breast cancer cells – when the cancer cells spread beyond the breast.”

Dr Mogensen suspects that EB2 could be helping breast cancer to spread. During the three-year project, the team of scientists will shed light on how exactly EB2 may play a role in breast cancer cells invading other parts of the body. The team will examine how EB2 controls the remodelling of the cells’ scaffolding (microtubules), and how the overproduction of EB2 affects both the cells’ shape and ability to move around.

Katherine Woods, research communications manager at Breast Cancer Campaign, said: “Despite great advances in breast cancer research over the past 20 years, 12,000 women still die from breast cancer in the UK each year, many from secondary breast cancer.

“We have launched our campaign ‘Spread the word’ to highlight that breast cancer is not a done deal and Dr Mogensen and her team’s research could bring us one step closer to our goal that, by 2020, 25 per cent fewer people will develop secondary breast cancer.”