A tissue sample with low levels of HER2
and HER3 bonded together (left)
A sample with high levels (right)

Personalizing breast cancer treatment with an imaging technique

July 14, 2016
by Lauren Dubinsky, Senior Reporter
Traditionally, breast cancer treatments are selected by testing the patients’ cancer cells for high levels of a certain protein, but scientists at Cancer Research UK (CRUK) found a new approach using an imaging technique.

Fluorescence lifetime imaging works by measuring the distance between two protein molecules. For the study, scientists at CRUK/Oxford Institute for Radiation Oncology and King’s College London used the imaging technique to measure the distance between HER2 and HER3 proteins in the patients’ breast cancer cells.

The HER2 protein can cause cancer cells to grow and HER2-positive breast cancer cells have the highest levels of it. The protein can be targeted with drugs like Herceptin and Tykerb in order to block its effect and prevent the cancer from growing.

The researchers think that patients whose imaging results show that the proteins have bonded together may benefit from HER2 targeted treatment despite how high the levels of HER2 are in their tumor. But further testing is needed to confirm that.

“Using this test, we should be able to predict which drugs won’t work in patients and avoid prescribing unnecessary treatments — putting the drugs that we’ve got to better use,” Tony Ng, lead author of the study, said in a statement.

Their next step is to conduct clinical trials to determine if this test can help patients. They hope that in addition to breast cancer, it will also help improve treatment for other cancers such as bowel and lung cancer.

Personalized cancer treatment has been a focus for some time now. Almost two years ago, Thomas Jefferson University found that a genomic test can determine which patients would benefit the most from radiation therapy after prostate cancer surgery.

“We know that different patients respond differently," Dr. Robert Den, associate professor of radiation oncology and cancer biology at Thomas Jefferson University, wrote to HCB News. "The use of genomics provides us with further insight into the cancer and allows us to personalize therapy."