Kraków scientists looking for a cure for breast cancer

31.03.2021. The main building of the Kraków University of Technology. PAP/Łukasz Gągulski
31.03.2021. The main building of the Kraków University of Technology. PAP/Łukasz Gągulski

Scientists from the Kraków University of Technology are working on a substance that could be an ingredient of drugs used in chemotherapy for triple-negative breast cancer - one of the most malignant female cancers that often also affect men.

Project leader Damian Kułaga from the university’s Faculty of Chemical Engineering and Technology said: “We are about halfway through the research project. Preliminary results show that it is possible to develop such a substance.”

He added that the use of such a substance in treatment could make the therapy more effective and safer.

In the future, the results of the project may be commercialised. 

Kułaga said: “There is a long way from the stage we are at - pre-clinical research - to the introduction of a drug based on our compound in therapy, but we are the first in the world to explore this path, believing that it will speed up work on an effective treatment of TNBC.”

Scientists conduct research on mice, so after the end of the project, further research on other organisms will be needed.

Triple-Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC) is a type of malignant breast cancer. It has a high rate of recurrence and a higher risk of spreading to distant parts of the body. It is detected in 10-15 percent of patients. The current TNBC therapy is mainly based on surgical removal of the tumour and administration of chemotherapeutic drugs, which, however, are highly toxic not only to cancer cells, but also to healthy tissues. Thanks to the work of scientists, it may be possible to destroy only harmful cells, without affecting healthy ones.

Kułaga said: “For doctors and patients, triple-negative cancer is a particularly difficult enemy, because there are no weak points on the surface of its cells, such as oestrogen, progesterone or HER2 receptors, which are sensitive to chemotherapy or hormone therapy and are exploited in the treatment of other cancer subtypes. Triple-negative breast cancer cells do not have such well-known Achilles heels as other types of breast cancer.”

He added: “Many research groups who develop new molecules focus on typical, known molecular targets. We decided to target a protein that has not been associated with cancer treatment, but rather with diseases of the central nervous system.”

In their research, scientists propose to use the serotonin 5-HT7 receptor as a key that will allow them to reach cancer cells. Its overexpression has been identified in many TNBC cell lines. Serotonin increases the proliferation of TNBC cancer cells.

Kułaga said: “By chemically blocking the serotonin receptor, we can significantly reduce cell development in in vitro and ex-vivo studies. We decided to check whether the compounds we had developed, derivatives of aminotriazines - 5-HT7 receptor antagonists, could also have a blocking effect on the development of cancer cells.”

From the laboratories in Kraków, the molecules will be sent for further tests to the research centres of the project partners - the Maj Institute of Pharmacology of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Kraków and the Hirszfeld Institute of Immunology and Experimental Therapy of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Wrocław.

The researchers received nearly PLN 1.5 million for the project under in the 'Lider' programme of the Polish National Centre for Research and Development (NCBR). (PAP)

Author: Beata Kołodziej

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