Expansion for ground-breaking breast cancer project

Feb 21 2012

Promising findings from a ground-breaking study into a tumour suppressor protein called p53, and its role in breast cancer, have yielded a further funding grant for University of Newcastle medical researcher Dr Kelly Avery-Kiejda.

Having studied the protein since 2005, Dr Avery-Kiejda showed for the first time that small forms of p53 are highly expressed in melanoma and that they may be a contributing factor to resistance to anti-cancer therapies. She is now extending these studies to breast cancer, where similar mechanisms appear to be at play.

Funding provided by the 2010 Pink Frangipani Ball in Newcastle allowed Dr Avery-Kiejda to examine patient samples and find which of the small forms of p53 were highly present in breast cancers. An additional $30,000 grant just provided by the Bloomfield Group Foundation will allow her to explore exactly how these small forms function in breast cancer.

Dr Avery-Kiejda said that p53 essentially acted like a stop/go sign for a cancer cell. When p53 is ‘on’ a tumour will stop, and vice versa.

“Most of the time p53’s function is inhibited through a mutation – something that has gone wrong in the DNA sequence – but in breast cancer that is rarer. I’m studying the alternate methods for it to be inhibited,” Dr Avery-Kiejda said.

“In the short term, if we find that a breast cancer has some of these smaller forms of p53 then we could use this as a prognostic marker. These smaller forms appear to be higher in patients with a more aggressive form of breast cancer.

“The long-term aim is to develop therapies that are targeted at stopping the inhibitor and reactivating the normal protein so that p53 is ‘switched on’ and the cancer is stopped.”

Bloomfield’s Managing Director Mr John Richards said the company was happyto be able to support HMRI and the research project into breast cancer.

This is an issue that touches many people in the community.  Newcastle is fortunate to have committed researchers and supporters in its own region,” he said.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in females, with 1 in 9 Australian women diagnosed in their lifetime.

Dr Kelly Avery-Kiejda is a post-doctoral research fellow in the Hunter Medical Research Institute’s Centre for Information Based Medicine Program. MRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter NewEngland Health and the community.

Dr Kelly Avery-Kiejda