Genes may predict patient's response to chemotherapy

In collaboration with the Press Association

Scientists at the University of Aberdeen have identified two genes that may help to identify which breast cancer patients will respond to the common chemotherapy drug docetaxel.

The drug is commonly given to patients with advanced breast cancer, but up to half of patients develop resistance to the treatment.

Using breast cancer cells grown in the laboratory, researchers have now identified variations in two genes that could be used to distinguish between those cells that are resistant to docetaxel and those that will respond to treatment.

Dr Andy Schofield, a senior lecturer at the university, commented: "For the first time, we have found two genes that identify which breast cancer cells respond to chemotherapy and which do not respond.

"We hope that in the future this will mean that before we treat patients with breast cancer with docetaxel, we can predict whether the drug will work or not using a very simple test."

Co-researcher Dr Iain Brown, a postdoctoral research fellow at the university, presented the findings at the European Cancer Conference in Barcelona this week.

He noted that, although the study has so far only been conducted on laboratory-grown cells, "we do believe these results may be translated into the clinical setting and benefit the patient".

"If we find the same results in patient samples, we would expect that a simple test for predicting who would benefit from docetaxel could be developed and in clinical use within the next five years," he revealed.

"Such a test would mean that those who would not benefit from docetaxel chemotherapy could be spared its harmful side effects, and this would also reduce costs for healthcare providers."

The researchers are also testing the approach in other cancers that are treated with docetaxel, and believe it may enable them to predict whether other common chemotherapy drugs will work in individual patients.