Role of xbp1 in breast cancer development and resistance to therapy

Key Information

Cancer type: 
Breast
Research Institution: 
NUIG, Galway
Grant Amount: 
€120,000
Start date: 
October 1, 2011
End date: 
September 30, 2014

Scientific Project Abstract

Our bodies are made up of cells, each with a special function. These cells can often become damaged or can stop working correctly. When this happens the body must prevent them from exerting harm to its functioning. One way, how the body does so, is by telling the damaged cell to commit suicide. If a damaged cell is not destroyed it can turn into a cancer cell. Cancer arises when the cells in our body do not work the way they are supposed to, they keep multiplying and can destroy the healthy tissue around them. They can spread to other parts of the body causing more damage and so it is important that we try and kill the cancer cells as early as possible. They are difficult to kill because they can be hardly distinguished from normal cells and so medicine like chemotherapy is used to destroy them. Chemotherapy however also kills our healthy cells and so it is important that we find ways to make chemotherapy work more efficiently and target only the cancerous cells. We will be looking at a protein called XBP1, which is involved in keeping the cells alive in times of stress. Cells have ways of protecting themselves in times of stress, like when they don't receive enough nutrients and oxygen, XBP1 helps the cells to cope with these stresses and allows them to survive. Cancer cells are multiplying so quickly that they are constantly under more stress than normal healthy cells are. We believe, that cancer cells have learned to use increased amounts of XBP1 to cope with this stress. Chemotherapy is a form of stress that XBP1 can protect the cells from. We think that if we remove XBP1 from the cancer cells that they won't be able to cope with the stress chemotherapy causes and the cancer cells will be easier to kill. This will allow us to create treatments that will limit how much XBP1s the cancer cells can make and use these alongside chemotherapy to decrease the chances of the patient dying. In order to limit the amount of XBP1 available we will also need to find out more about how it works especially in breast cancer cells because at the moment there is limited amount of information about how XBP1 helps breast cancer cells survive and grow.

For the non-scientist

One-line description: 
Investigating the role of a cancer-survival molecule in the development of breast cancer and the response of breast cancer to treatment
What this project involves: 

Cells have ways of protecting themselves in times of stress, for example during nutrient and oxygen deprivation, and XBP1 is a molecule that helps the cells to cope with these stresses and allows them to survive. Due to the rapid rate at which cancer cells are multiplying, that they are constantly under more stress than normal healthy cells are. It is thought that cancer cells have adapted to this additional stress by means of increasing their amount of XBP1. This project aims to understand if this is actually the case and if by removing XBP1 from these cancer cells, will they be more sensitive to stresses caused by chemotherapy.