Developing a new treatment for triple negative breast cancers


Professor Robert Baxter

Kolling Institute, The University of Sydney at Royal North Shore HospitalFunding duration: 2015 - 2017

A research team led by Professor Robert Baxter has tested a promising new therapy, which can effectively block the growth of triple negative breast cancer by inhibiting two proteins that act as stimulators. 


In Australia, over 18,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. Among them, around 15% will have triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), a subtype of the disease that is currently difficult to treat. Triple negative breast cancers lack the key proteins that would make them responsive to traditional breast cancer drugs, such as Tamoxifen and Herceptin.

Chemotherapy is the most common treatment for women with this type of breast cancer, but even if there is an initial response, the disease often comes back. New therapies that can effectively treat triple negative breast cancers and keep them from spreading are urgently needed.

The research

Professor Baxter and his team have focused their research on targeting a protein called IGFBP-3. When present in high levels, this protein drives cancer growth and contributes to treatment resistance. The researchers have found that one way IGFBP-3 does this is by activating two other proteins that act as cancer-stimulators.

The team has developed a new drug therapy that could be used to treat TNBC. The new approach involves combining two currently available drugs to target the effects of the IGFBP-3 protein. This combined drug therapy was effective in stopping the growth of cancer cells in the laboratory and in pre-clinical testing using active TNBC tumours. Their results indicate that this therapy could be an effective alternative to chemotherapy for some women with TNBC.

The impact

This work is laying the foundation for clinical trials of this treatment for TNBC, where the team hope to be able to reproduce their promising results. Ultimately, it is hoped that this research will open the door to a whole new way of managing and treating these aggressive breast cancers and improving the outlook for all women affected.

Lead ResearcherResearch Team

Professor Robert Baxter
Kolling Institute, The University of Sydney at Royal North Shore Hospital

Professor Frances Boyle
Dr Janet Martin

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