Hormones, drugs and breast cancer
Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute
Dr Jason Carroll based at our Cambridge Research Institute is exploring the role of the oestrogen receptor (ER) in breast cancer development and treatment. In particular, he is studying how the hormone oestrogen fuels the growth of breast cancer cells by binding to the ER. His work is focusing on how tamoxifen, a commonly used breast cancer drug, works by blocking the ER. This pioneering work is providing important insights into how some breast cancers become resistant to treatment.
Understanding the oestrogen receptor
In the presence of oestrogen, the ER switches on certain genes that trigger the growth of cells. Dr Carroll is using cutting-edge techniques to investigate exactly how the ER brings about these changes.
More specifically, he is interested in how the ER binds to DNA and cooperates with the many other proteins involved to determine whether genes are switched on or off. This has important implications for breast cancer development.
Investigating tamoxifen and resistance to treatment
Dr Carroll is investigating the effect that the drug tamoxifen has on the ER. In particular, he is finding out in greater detail how tamoxifen blocks the growth of breast cancer cells and why some women eventually stop responding well to this treatment.
He has already made a real breakthrough in this field by showing that tamoxifen acts through the ER to directly switch off another key protein, ERBB2, in breast cancer cells. Importantly, the team found that cancer cells can become resistant to tamoxifen by overriding this control switch and turning ERBB2 back on. This exciting discovery provides new opportunities to tackle drug resistance and improve breast cancer treatment in the future.
In November 2010, the European Molecular Biology Organisation awarded Dr Carroll the title of Young Investigator. Each year these awards recognise Europe's most talented young researchers.