Hormone receptor function in breast cancer therapy

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Published: 6 Jan 2015
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Dr Wilbert Zwart, Netherlands Cancer Instititute (NKI), Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Dr Zwart speaks to ecancer at the 2nd EurocanPlatform Translational Research Course about his work into hormone receptor function in breast cancer therapy, what benefits may be seen in clinical practise and what the next steps will be.

Learn more about the EurocanPlatform project here

My research is focussed on hormone receptors and this presentation will be specifically on hormone receptor function and inhibition of hormone receptor function in breast cancer therapy. So the vast majority of breast cancer patients, about 75%, are hormone receptor positive and hormone receptor targeting is one of the major therapy options in the treatment of breast cancer patients but sadly not everyone responds. So the idea is that there are different kinds of hormonal therapy which are available and what we aim to do in our research is that we want to find what specific patient population would benefit most from one specific kind of hormonal therapy. The presentation will be about basically the background on the hormonal therapies in breast cancer, the different kinds of hormonal therapy we have, and the tactics which we are applying to identify which patients would benefit most and how we aim to introduce that into the clinic.

The main message would be that even though these therapies, they’re good but, sad enough, they are not perfect. So there’s a clear and urgent need for the development of predictive biomarkers that would enable the identification of which patients would benefit most. Since we do have different therapy options available the clinical introduction of such knowledge and such findings would actually be quite feasible.

One other major take-home message is that we have a lot of cell-line models available in the lab by which we can test hormonal function and there’s always the question of how good are these cell-line models and to what degree do these cell-line models represent what we find in the clinic. The answer for that is actually that those models, actually they’re pretty good, at least when it comes to the effect of hormonal therapy and the kind of biomarkers we aim to find, that actually we find a behaviour in the cell-lines which follows the clinical situation quite well.

Would this be of benefit for clinical practice?

Yes, definitely and it’s definitely something that we aim to achieve and that we aim to achieve in a very relatively quick time as well. So the important part is really that you need to get your research incorporating clinical trials, at least that’s what we actively try to do and it works out pretty well. So we’re involved in some phase II clinical trials where we tend to test our biomarkers or tend to validate our biomarkers that we find within our preclinical regime and to see if that is actually something that would be applicable in the clinic. Since it is really within the clinical trial, if it works and if it does show what we hope to find then the next step of real clinical introduction could be relatively feasible in a short period of time.

What would be the next step?

The big issue would really be validations; larger series, larger validations, see if it’s really… What we’ve found now looks really promising and it looks good but then the next step would see really is that a persistent kind of finding and do we keep on finding these promising results that we actually can make into a clinical application.

What are the main obstacles?

It’s just having good access to samples, to specimens, and having those things incorporated directly. Apart from that, the major issues are actually issues which are almost covered while we go along, basically. So I can’t really complain, things are going quite smooth.