Dr Andrew Burgess, an experienced cell biologist who is the Institute’s new Microscopy and Cytometry Manager, has been awarded a grant of $398,049 over three years by the National Breast Cancer Foundation to further his research into the genetic background of breast cancers.
A primary driving force behind the initiation and ongoing development of breast cancer is the activation of oncogenes, genes with the potential to cause cancer. Dr Burgess explains that oncogenes act like a car accelerator, driving excessive growth and spreading of the cancer cells throughout the body. Consequently, identifying new oncogenes and determining their functions is essential for understanding how breast cancers grow and spread.
“We recently identified a novel oncogene called MASTL that is amplified and overexpressing up to 45% triple-negative breast cancers (TNBC). Importantly, increased MASTL correlates with higher grade, unstable
“Conversely, removal of MASTL from TNBC cells reverses the abnormal growth and spreading. Initial analysis of the underlying mechanisms suggests that MASTL rewires key signalling pathways in breast cells and is essential for regulating how cells duplicate their DNA. We hypothesise that MASTL is an ideal candidate to develop inhibitors, as blocking MASTL would prevent breast cancer growth and spreading, and enhance response to current chemotherapies, leading to improved patient survival.
“The purpose of this project is to better understand the mechanisms by which MASTL drives breast cancer, confirm that targeting MASTL can successfully block breast cancer in mice models, and to establish the tools necessary to develop specific inhibitors of MASTL that could be used to treat breast cancer.”
“There is a significant need to identify new targets for TNBC in order to improve these worst-case patients. We believe that MASTL represents a promising new target that could be used to improve the outcomes for TNBC patients.”
In 2017 it was estimated that almost 18,000 Australians (including about 150 men) would have been diagnosed with breast cancer, and at least 3000 deaths would be recorded.