No single cure for many varieties of breast cancer, researcher says

Because there are so many different types of cancer there will never be a single cure for them, but researchers have made significant advances in fighting the disease on an individual basis, according to Lisa Porter.

“If you think about it, 60 years ago we didn’t even know what cancer was,” said Dr. Porter, an associate professor in Biological Sciences who devotes much of her lab time to studying the mechanisms that cause cancer cells to divide and grow.

Porter will appear today on a CJAM 99.1 FM talk show to discuss her research, but also to acknowledge that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. She said battling breast cancer is difficult because there are so many different types and it affects every person individually.

“Even within breast cancer, there are at least 10 or more different diseases,” she said. “So from cancer type to cancer type and even within a specific type of cancers, cancer is a very different beast and we really need to treat it like different diseases.”

“Cancer is your own body cells growing out of control,” she added, “and because everybody has different DNA the mechanisms that are driving cancer are different from person to person, and so there really isn’t one single, silver bullet answer. But there are some very good cures, and some very good diagnostic tools because of the research that’s been done along the way.”

Porter and her team of students devote much of their time studying Spy1, a protein that was discovered in 2002 and plays a critical role in cell division and growth. She described that protein as a “repairman” that makes sure everything in a cell is operating properly before it splits up the DNA when it divides, putting a stop on the process if it’s not occurring properly. It operates the same way in cancer cells however, encouraging them to grow and divide.

“And now we know which types of cancer it’s implicated in,” she said. “We know what kind of jobs it’s doing to encourage certain cells to grow faster.”

Porter said she’s part of a team that has recently launched a clinical trial in an attempt to locate and enlist the help of breast cancer patients with high levels of Spy1 and low levels of certain hormonal receptors. Their hope is to find patients who may be responsive to certain drugs targeted at that protein.

Porter will appear on Research Matters on CJAM 99.1 FM, a weekly talk show that highlights the work of University of Windsor researchers and airs every Thursday at 4:30 p.m.