SCIENTISTS in Southampton have discovered what could lead to a breakthrough in the treatment of breast cancer.

Although in its early stages it is thought the pioneering research could have the potential to deliver a completely new kind of cancer drug, which could be available within ten years. The new drug is being described as a “potential lifeline” to those with the disease, and a real alternative to chemotherapy treatments but without the debilitating side effects.

The team led by Dr Jeremy Blaydes, from the University of Southampton, has found that by blocking certain proteins, they could stop breast cancer cells using sugar to fuel their growth.

Sugar is one of the key products needed by cancer cells to grow as they grab the substance from the blood and using it to fuel their development.

The breakthrough has been described as attacking the ‘sweet tooth’ of tumours and is being heralded as the basis of a new treatment for cases where a resistance to traditional chemotherapy treatment has built up.

Lead scientist Dr Jeremy Blaydes, from the University of Southampton, said: “Because this is an entirely new approach to treatment, the drugs we are developing could be effective against breast cancers that have become resistant to current chemotherapies.

“Unfortunately, despite great improvements in breast cancer treatment in recent years, chemotherapyresistance eventually happens in around one in five cases, and every year in the UK around 12,000 women still die from the disease. To overcome this resistance, innovative treatments that use new approaches to stop cancer from growing are desperately needed.'

“This work is at an early stage in the laboratory but it is really exciting as it has the potential to deliver a completely new kind of cancer drug, which could be available within 10 years.”

The research is published in the August edition of the journal Chemical Science and is the culmination of Dr Blaydes research that began as an “inkling of an idea” in 1999.

Following the first of a number of grants which since have totalled just over £500,000, Dr Blaydes said he had a couple of eureka moments during his research.

Speaking about the moment tests showed the cancer cells were dying off after being injected with the compound Dr Blaydes said: “I just asked the student to do it again, and again and again until I thought ‘hang on a minute, I think we have got something here’.”

He also paid tribute to his colleague Dr Ali Tavassoli in the chemistry faculty along with his team Dr Charles Birts and Dr Sharandip Nijjar.

Dr Stuart Griffiths, research director at Breast Cancer Campaign, said: “For women whose breast cancer has become resistant to chemotherapy, this potential new treatment could offer a much-needed lifeline.

“Every year, thousands of women still die and millions are affected by breast cancer so we will continue to seek out world-class research, bringing the brightest minds together to share knowledge and produce better, quicker results.”

The research was partly funded through Breast Cancer Campaign’s partnership with supermarket chain Asda and its Tickled Pink campaign, Debenhams’ Think Pink campaign and The Generations Walk.

IN breast cancer, the process involves certain proteins called CtBPs binding together to form pairs known as dimers. These, in turn, help the cells to multiply and proliferate.

Dr Blaydes’ team, funded by the charity Breast Cancer Campaign, found that certain chemicals can block CtBPs and thus prevent the dimers forming.

The most successful of these ‘blockers’ is now being developed as a potential new breast cancer drug.

Dr Blaydes added: “What makes this discovery even more exciting as a potential treatment is that CtBPs are mostly only active in the cancer cells, so blocking this “sweet tooth” should cause less damage to normal cells and fewer side effects than existing treatments.”

What happens now?

THE treatment that is being developed now has to be refined in order to turn it into something that can be given as a drug.

Following the publication of Dr Blaydes research it is likely a pharmaceutical company will become involved in the development of the drug.

Once manufactured the product then has to go through a series of drug trials before it is cleared to be prescribed to patients.