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HRC funding for groundbreaking cancer prevention research

Wednesday 20 January 2021 8:43am

Vanessa Lattimore image
Dr Vanessa Lattimore has received a grant to explore her passion – lowering the impact of breast cancer.

A Christchurch-based researcher has secured funding to develop a groundbreaking alternative to invasive surgeries for cancer prevention.

Dr Vanessa Lattimore, a Research Fellow in the Department of Pathology and Biomedical Science, has been awarded $249,974 from the Health Research Council, Breast Cancer Cure and Breast Cancer Foundation New Zealand to explore a novel therapy to reduce breast cancer risk in high-risk individuals. If successful, her research will provide people who are genetically predisposed to breast and ovarian cancers with the opportunity to lower their risk without invasive surgeries, she says.

“Prophylactic surgery remains an effective preventative option in the management of high-risk women, however, this approach is irreversible and can cause ongoing psychological and physiological harm to patients.

“This funding provides me with the invaluable opportunity to work with a team of internationally acclaimed experts as I lead an exciting project exploring an area I am very passionate about – lowering the impact of breast cancer.”

“Further advances are therefore required to identify novel risk-reducing treatment options. Providing an effective alternative to these treatments would be particularly significant for younger women genetically predisposed to these cancers. These individuals would not only still be able to have children and retain their ability to breast feed, but they would be able to do so with the knowledge that their risk of cancer is significantly reduced.”

Prevention is still the best strategy for reducing the impact of breast and ovarian cancer, she says.

“Antisense oligonucleotide therapy has been successful in reversing the symptoms of degenerative disorders by altering gene splicing, a cellular process undertaken prior to the production of protein. This proposal will investigate whether antisense oligonucleotides can be used to eliminate the impact of high-risk genetic variants by modifying splicing, subsequently re-establishing the production of functional protein.”

The study will “lay the foundation” for the development of novel risk-reducing therapies to prevent cancer in genetically predisposed individuals.

“This funding provides me with the invaluable opportunity to work with a team of internationally acclaimed experts as I lead an exciting project exploring an area I am very passionate about – lowering the impact of breast cancer.”

The HRC breast cancer funding aims to improve quality of life and survival in breast cancer in New Zealand. The overall research objectives and priorities for this year’s investment include a focus on achieving health equity and improving health outcomes for communities disproportionately affected by breast cancer.