Developing new treatments for hard to treat breast cancers

With the support of Cancer Council, one Australian researcher with a brilliant idea has been able to establish a global field of research that aims to transform how we treat and improve survival for the hardest to treat forms of breast cancers.

Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in Australia and around the world. Whilst treatment has improved significantly, around 15-20% of breast cancer cases do not respond to new therapies. More common in younger women, these breast cancers tend to be more aggressive and more likely to return.

Professor Gregory Monteith, based at The University of Queensland School of Pharmacy and Mater Research Institute-UQ, is leading the world in the development of new treatment options for this group of women. He has identified specific characteristics in the cells of these types of breast cancer and from this, is helping develop new types of drug treatments to stop these cancers growing and spreading.

While Professor Monteith is now internationally recognised for his work, there was a time where it looked like his research would never get off the ground.

Starting his career in cardiovascular disease, Professor Monteith saw a huge opportunity to extend his research into cancer therapies. More specifically, he could see his work held great promise for women diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, where few treatment options were available.

I wanted to contribute to an area that was so important to so many. I also wanted to make a significant contribution to the wider research field.

Without the background evidence however, he was not able to secure funding from government agencies. Without the funding, he was unable to prove that his theories had promise. This frustrating situation is a common barrier to research progress and can significantly delay the discovery of new cancer therapies.

This was when Cancer Council stepped in. In 2002, he was awarded a Cancer Council grant to kick start his study, allowing him to collect enough data to demonstrate the potential of his research. Further Cancer Council funding enabled his work to expand, building the knowledge and expertise required to translate his laboratory research findings towards new breast cancer treatments.

Cancer Council provided the funding we needed to establish a solid research foundation. It enabled us to take part in a promising new field of research right as it was taking off, and we are now internationally recognised for our leadership in this field.

Today, Professor Monteith heads up a thriving laboratory powered by cutting edge technology and staffed by the brightest scientific minds. He and his team have found new drug targets, and also identified a number of cellular markers that doctors may one day use to precisely identify which treatment will have the best outcome for individual women. Their work is being recognised globally, accelerating our journey towards a cancer free future.

With the support of Cancer Council, one Australian researcher with a brilliant idea has been able to establish a global field of research that aims to transform how we treat and improve survival for the hardest to treat forms of breast cancers.

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