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30 November 2015 08:09
Breast cancer kills around 11,500 people in the UK each year
A combination of immunotherapy and chemotherapy could provide the key to treating breast cancer patients who have become resistant to existing drugs, new research suggests.
An international team of scientists tested the dual therapy on mice and say their results were "striking".
Experts at the Breast Cancer Care charity say they hope the study will be followed by further clinical trials and pave the way for the development of better treatments.
Researchers say the fact that the mice stayed free of cancer even after being given fresh tumours suggests the combined treatment provided them with ongoing immune protection.
Breast cancer has not previously been known to respond well to immunotherapy but pairing it with targeted chemotherapy produced some startling results, the research team says.
The therapy prevented tumours in the mice from being able to protect themselves from the immune system, enabling them to be attacked by cancer-fighting immune cells.
The type of cancer used by the team is one known as Her2 positive. It affects up to a fifth of all women with breast cancer and in the majority of cases results in patients becoming resistant to the drug Herceptin and other treatments.
But research leader Dr Philipp Muller, of Switzerland's University of Basel, says the technique made the tumours highly vulnerable to antibody-based immunotherapy.
It saw the mice given a chemotherapy drug and a variety of antibodies, including some which stopped the cancers shielding themselves from the animals' immune systems.
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Breast Cancer Care's Jackie Harris describes the research as interesting and a welcome forward step.
The clinical nurse specialist says the results of the early study open up the possibility of breast cancer patients who have become resistant to current drugs being treated in an alternative way in the future.
She adds that while Her2 positive breast cancer is hard to treat, research will provide the key to more effective treatments being developed.
The new study is published in the Science Translational Medicine journal.
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