Shark antibodies could provide key to targeting breast cancer

Last Updated: Thursday, September 26, 2013 - 19:32

London: Scottish biologists, investigating antibodies found naturally in sharks could be used to target breast cancer, have been granted over 200,000 pounds for the research.

Association for International Cancer Research (AICR) - a Scottish cancer research charity - granted the amount to the biologists from the University of Aberdeen to analyse if IgNAR, a special antibody found only in sharks, can be used to inhibit the growth of cancer cells.

The three-year study will look at two molecules - called HER2 and HER3 - found on the surface of cancer cells.

When these molecules pair-up on the surface of a cancer cell, they signal it to grow and divide.

According to a release by the Aberdeen University, the study will investigate if shark IgNAR antibodies can be used to stop these two molecules from working and sending this signal.

The research could pave the way for the development of new drugs to fight breast cancer in the future.

Around one in four women with breast cancer have a type referred to as HER2-positive breast cancer, where a very high level of HER2 is found on the surface of cancer cells.

HER2-positive breast cancer can be successfully treated with drugs however resistance to treatment is an increasing problem.

"Our work centres on a type of antibody, called IgNAR, which is uniquely found in the blood of sharks. IgNAR antibodies are interesting because they bind to targets, such as viruses or parasites, in a very different way to the antibodies found in humans," said Dr Helen Dooley of Aberdeen School of Biological Sciences who leads the study.

"We believe we can exploit the novel binding of IgNAR and use it to stop HER2 and HER3 molecules from working, and prompting cancer cells to grow and divide. This is only the first step in a very long process but if our hypothesis holds true we hope to develop new anti-cancer drugs based upon these unique shark antibodies," she added.

"We believe that funding research projects like Dr Helen Dooley is so important for the future development of more effective treatments to help patients who become resistant to drugs like Herceptin," said Lara Bennett, AICR Science communication manager.

Whilst breast cancer is still the most common cancer in the UK, more than 85 out of every 100 people diagnosed with breast cancer do live for at least five years after diagnosis and more than 75 out of every 100 people live for at least 10 years.


First Published: Thursday, September 26, 2013 - 19:32

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