Manipulating molecules to enhance breast cancer treatment

funding research into breast cancerThe ACRF is proud to have funded a cutting-edge research discovery at Sydney’s Garvan Institute which revealed a known ‘transcription factor’ could be at the heart of many ineffective breast cancer treatments.

‘Transcription factors’ are molecules which act like a switch – turning genes on and off to change the behaviour and characteristics of our cells.

‘ELF5’ is one such transcription factor, best understood for its role in triggering oestrogen-receptor negative (ER-negative) cells for the development of breast milk during pregnancy.

But cancer researchers at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research have also shown that ELF5 can prevent breast cancer treatments from working.

In a preclinical study, Associate Professor Chris Ormandy and his team found that ELF5 can make an oestrogen-receptor positive (ER+) tumour cell behave like an ER- negative cell. 

Many breast cancers are treated with an anti-oestrogen therapy such as Tamoxifen or aromatase inhibitors, so when ELF5 changes the tumour cell’s characteristics, these treatments are ineffective.

Associate Professor Chris Ormandy referred to this discovery as “opening a huge therapeutic door” for cancer researchers.

“If we can make drugs that knock ELF5 down,” he said, “we have a chance at stopping this resistance to anti-oestrogen therapies.”

“As ELF5 is intracellular, this could possibly be done with small molecule therapies that target protein-to-protein interactions, or with small inhibitory RNAs.”

“There is also the possibility of testing ELF5 levels in tumours to predict a patient’s response to treatment.”

The findings of this exciting discovery have been published in PLoS Biology. You can also access the Garvan Institute’s press release, by clicking here.