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Breast Cancer Breakthrough: NZ Researchers Use Nano-Medicine to Kill Cancer Cells

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By Reissa Su | January 31, 2014 12:56 PM EST

A new approach to breast cancer treatment developed by New Zealand researchers could prove to be cheaper, safer and more effective. Researchers were inspired by the initial findings of a major study in the country which may be the best way to fight an aggressive type of breast cancer.


Pink balloons are displayed in front of an artificial waterfall during the "Pink Ribbon" breast cancer awareness campaign at Cheonggye Stream in central Seoul October 5, 2011. (Reuters)

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According to cancer experts, triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) is diagnosed in about 15 to 20 per cent of women in New Zealand especially at a younger age. Traditionally, chemotherapy drugs are used to treat and destroy rapidly dividing cells in the area where cancer cells are located.

However, the drugs used can also kill the cells lining the gastrointestinal tract, including hair cells which leave patients suffering from hair loss and health complications. Avoiding the side effects of drug treatments may just be one of the benefits of the new breast cancer treatment.

The new approach involves nano-medicine to target and destroy cancer cells. Otago University researchers are currently investigating the treatment which is funded by the New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation and could prove to a safer alternative to the traditional approach.

Associate Professor and toxicologist Rhonda Rosengren said the research team is focusing on hormone-resistant cancers like TNBC. Triple negative breast cancer was named for its tumours that lack estrogen, progesterone and HER2 which are hormone receptors fueling most forms of breast cancer.

New Zealand researchers want to develop a low-cost breast cancer treatment using nano-medicine RL-71, a powerful chemotherapeutic agent created by Associate Professor Rosengren and her team.

The agent will be directly applied to cancer cells using a new delivery mode co-patented by Dr Khaled Greish, one of the cancer study collaborators. Ms Rosengren hopes their research could lead to a drug that would only cost less than $100 per dose.  

The research team used mice to test the new treatment. Study findings had shown an early tumour suppression was promising, but more tests are needed to determine the drug's effectiveness against metastasis or the spread of cancer cells.

Ms Rosengren said those who die from cancer were often due to the cancer spreading. The new breast cancer treatment will have to be tested on a cancer spread model. While the research is still in its pre-clinical stages, the team hopes clinical trials can begin in two to three years.

New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation spokesperson Adele Gautier said international breast cancer researchers were also focusing on TNBC. The organisation continues to look for a breakthrough in cancer treatment that will cause a worldwide difference. 

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Pink balloons are displayed in front of an artificial waterfall during the "Pink Ribbon" breast cancer awareness campaign at Cheonggye Stream in central Seoul October 5, 2011. (Reuters)
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