Research To Prevent Cardiac Side Effects From Breast Cancer Treatment 

Lead Researchers: Prof Helge Rasmussen, Dr Chia-Chi Liu, Elisha Hamilton

Professor Helge Rasmussen and his team are working on a way to help breast cancer survivors reduce their risk of irreversible heart damage.

Heart Research Australia is delighted to share the news that thanks to an anonymous benefactor, combined with Heart Research Australia donors, we are able to fund further development of the life-saving work of Professor Helge Rasmussen and his team which had previously been on hold due to lack of funding.

Whilst cancer treatments are effective against many cancers, heart muscle damage and heart failure are a serious side effect. It is not uncommon that the life expectancy of cancer patients is reduced due to heart disease brought on by the cancer treatment, rather than by the cancer itself.  With the increase of total treatment dose, so to does the risk of heart damage.

As the heart lies directly under the breast when treating breast cancer, the heart can also receive doses of radiotherapy and chemotherapy increasing the risk of heart failure in the future.

Professor Rasmussen discovered that a protein FXYD 3 can be overexpressed in some cancer cells protecting these cancer cells from treatments, particularly radiotherapy.

In a novel approach to reduce heart muscle damage for patients undergoing breast cancer treatment, Professor Rasmussen and his team developed a small protein molecule (peptide) that ‘silences’ the manufacturing process of FXYD 3 by a high-expressing breast cancer cell.  To test this, they applied their peptide to cancer cells in test-tube experiments.

The result of test tube studies found that the effectiveness of chemotherapy was increased nearly tenfold when the peptide was applied to the cancer cells. The sensitivity of the cancer cells to the drug greatly increased, while its effects on the heart cells is much less pronounced, reducing heart muscle damage and the risk of treatment related heart failure.

The next stage of this research is to determine if the peptide sensitises tumours of human breast cancer cells grown in mice to X-ray radiation.  A sensitisation would allow maintained effectiveness of radiotherapy with reduced radiation dose hence reduced risk of heart damage.

This life-saving research not only has the potential to make breast cancer treatments more effective while reducing the risk of damage to the heart muscle but also has the potential to help prostate and pancreatic cancer treatments.

Heart Research Australia supports seed funding enabling researchers to turn their out of the notebook ideas into reality by bringing together a team of experts and getting the results needed to be able to apply for larger government grants.  As these grants can be highly competitive, this seed funding is crucial for researchers to achieve significant life-saving medical breakthroughs.

To allow more life-saving research projects to continue, donate to Heart Research Australia now and help keep families together for longer.

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Professor Helge Rasmussen with Dr Elisha Hamilton and PhD student, Yeon Jae Kim