Project Title: Using novel approaches to regulate cancer DNA for treatment of brain cancer and in breast cancer spread to the brain

Grant Amount: $446,227

Institution: University of Western Australia

Investigator Team: Principal investigators A/Prof Pilar Blancafort, Prof Anna Nowak, Dr Raelene Endersby, A/Prof Kerrie McDonald, Prof Christobel Saunders, Prof Melissa Davis and Prof Killugudi Swaminatha Iyer, with associate investigators Prof Robyn Anderson, A/Prof Andrew Redfern, Dr Foteini Hassiotou, Dr Joseph Cursons and Dr Alex Swarbrick

Grant Type: 2019 Brain and Breast Collaborative Grant

Years: 2019 - 2023

For the first time in 2019, Cure Brain Cancer Foundation and the National Breast Cancer Foundation came together to jointly fund high impact translational research that spans both primary brain cancer and breast cancers to improve survival for people diagnosed with these diseases.

The research team, led by A/Prof Pilar Blancafort and Prof Anna Nowak, will use gene-editing technology to turn off the MGMT gene in glioblastoma cells. High levels of this gene repair the damage caused by chemotherapy and radiotherapy. By switching the MGMT gene off, it is hoped this will enhance the ability of chemotherapy to destroy glioblastoma in the 60% of patients who have MGMT turned on and thus respond poorly to treatment. 

In breast cancer which has spread to the brain, we will use gene-editing technology to modulate genes which repair the DNA damage created by radiotherapy and other treatments, leading to treatment resistance.

Highlighted Quote: “We have chosen to study breast cancer that has spread to the brain as well as brain cancer partly because both are treated with radiotherapy, which aims to damage the DNA of cancer cells...Our approach will hopefully enhance the standard treatment that is used for both cancers” - Prof Anna Nowak


Progress report (August 2021)

We have developed a number of genetic tools that repress genes used by brain cancer cells to resist treatments such as radiotherapy. With these genes repressed across generations, brain cancer cells should become more sensitive to currently available treatments.

This project will impact people living with brain cancer by extending the efficacy of already existing treatments. Brain cancer research will also benefit from new tools to manipulate the expression of important genes without having to alter the DNA of patients, allowing for more robust analysis.

Funds from the Cure Brain Cancer Foundation have been essential in supporting technicians to grow, engineer and maintain the many human cell lines used in this project, as well as the expensive materials and reagents required to build the genetic tools and transform them into the cell lines.