Research could halve future rates of BRCA

It has been very exciting to track down Dr Elizabeth Iorns – a scientist who is conducting ground-breaking experiments in America to reduce the genetic transmission of BRCA – and realise that she grew up in New Zealand!
Dr Iorns (pictured right) has qualifications from around the world, including a PhD in cancer biology from the University of London. As the wife of a BRCA carrier, she now has a personal reason to invest time and money into researching this particular gene mutation.
She is currently overseeing experiments on mice to see if giving PARP inhibitor drugs to male BRCA carriers can prevent the transmission of the mutation in their sperm.  If this proves effective, Dr Iorns will quickly move on to human trials.
This could offer male BRCA carriers a cost effective and non-invasive way to prevent future children (and their descendants) from getting the mutation. The research could also have far-reaching implications for prospective parents dealing with other genetically inherited diseases, such as cystic fibrosis.
Mice were chosen for the research because they develop breast tumours that histologically resemble human BRCA mutant cancers. BRCA tumours in mice have also proven susceptible to PARP inhibitor treatment, achieving results similar to those of human BRCA cancer patients.
The sperm transmission research got underway at the University of North Carolina this month and was made possible with the development of a new Science Exchange programme, co-developed by Dr Iorns, which helps researchers find expert scientists to conduct their experiments.  She also needed $US10,000 to fund the research, which was raised using new online scientific fundraising website Microryza.

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What are PARP inhibitors?

  • Poly ADP-Ribose Polymerase (PARP) enzymes in the body sometimes help cancer cells to repair and recover from chemotherapy and radiation, making cancer treatments ineffective.
  • New drugs called PARP inhibitors have been designed to stop PARP enzymes doing this.
  • BRCA cancer patients were among the first to trial these drugs.
  • Results show PARP inhibitors increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy on aggressive hereditary and triple-negative breast cancers and do not appear to affect normal, non-cancerous cells. This means fewer side effects and a faster recovery.
  • PARP inhibitors could possibly be used as a preventative drug to stop BRCA mutant cancers from developing
  • Significant research is still being done. If successful, PARP inhibitors could be available for public use in the next few years.
  • BRCA cancer patients may be able to access PARP inhibitors sooner by enrolling in clinical trials.

Source: The Gift of Knowledge e-newsletter July 2013

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