Breast cancer research brought forward by 'decades'

02 February 2017 08:25

The 'big data' method will make it easier to to predict treatment outcomes in patients

The 'big data' method will make it easier to to predict treatment outcomes in patients

An innovative technique to link breast cancer cell shapes to changes in genes could help scientists identify treatments much sooner.

Scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research in London examined images of more than 300,000 breast cancer cells and compared them to data for 28,000 different genes.

Using "revolutionary" software to view multiple images at once, they mapped networks of links between cell shapes and gene alterations, which in turn can help them to predict treatment outcomes in patients.

Cancer Research UK, that funded the study, says understanding connections between the appearance and behaviour of breast cancer cells, alongside its genetic make-up, will help researchers develop a more detailed picture of the disease.

Professor Karen Vousden, Cancer Research UK's chief scientist, added: "The insights and approaches used in this research could one day lead to us being able to tell from appearance how aggressive someone's cancer is and how likely to spread, helping doctors decide the best course of treatment."

Decades ahead

The research could have taken many decades to process the information and analyse "one gene at a time".

However, the new software and 'big data' approach allowed the images to be viewed all at once - resulting in the study being completed in a matter of months.

Dr Chris Bakal, team leader in dynamic cell systems at the Institute of Cancer Research, said: "Our study reveals an exciting link between the forces that act on cancer cells and the development of the disease.

"The maps we've created of cell shapes and their effects on gene activity provide important pointers to new forms of cancer treatment and ways of making existing therapies more effective."

People who have suffered from breast cancer can take out medical travel insurance when travelling abroad.

Large scale research

The ground-breaking study has analysed millions of pictures of cells from breast cancer tumours.

Maps were used to look at changes in more than 300,000 cells from women who took part in the Cancer Research UK-funded METABRIC study.

Being able to identify the specific treatment that will work for an individual patient could be an essential tool in helping doctors control the growth and spread of breast cancer.

 

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