News: Research grant awarded to University of Leeds | Breast Cancer UK

News: Research grant awarded to University of Leeds

Published 18 Mar 2017

To mark British Science week, we asked Dr Laura Matthews, from the University of Leeds, to tell us about her new research project which has just been awarded a £15,000 research grant by Breast Cancer UK.

Dr Matthews explains the background to her research that could pave the way for identifying chemicals that may be associated with increased breast cancer risk.  Laura’s project aims to identify which so-called nuclear receptors play a role in breast cancer, and to identify and characterise chemicals which disrupt these receptors, and may be associated with increasing breast cancer risk.

Nuclear receptors are proteins that when “activated” move into the cell nucleus, bind DNA and regulate gene expression (switching genes on or off). Activation is by a specific “ligand” - a hormone or cell by-product, depending on the receptor in question.

Nuclear receptors can regulate gene expression rapidly in response to a range of factors relating to diet, inflammation and stress – which may all be associated with breast cancer development.

It is already known that two nuclear receptors – oestrogen and progesterone receptors - are very important in diagnosing and treating breast cancer. The amount of these proteins in tumours is used to assign patients to clinical groups which can help doctors decide the best therapy.

Evidence is now emerging that in some breast tumours, the level of other nuclear receptors, e.g. the androgen receptor, is altered. Understanding what causes these nuclear receptors to change, and how it might contribute to the development of breast cancer is important, in order to identify risk factors for breast cancer.

The purpose of the Breast Cancer UK funded study is to measure the levels of all 48 nuclear receptors in normal breast tissue and different types of breast tumour samples, to help identify common nuclear receptor gene signatures.

Laura can then make predictions to identify chemicals in the environment that regulate nuclear receptor expression - chemicals which may increase the risk of developing breast cancer. Laura can also make predictions on the pathways that are changed as a consequence of the altered nuclear receptor expression - pathways likely to be involved in the cancer process. The predictions made by this initial analysis will then be experimentally tested using human breast cancer cell lines and in tumour tissue collected from patients undergoing surgery.

Through this work, by uncovering novel chemical disruptors of nuclear receptor expression, and their target pathways, Laura can identify risk factors for developing breast cancer, and novel therapeutic targets. 

Dr Laura Matthews

University Academic Fellow at the University of Leeds.


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