One of the most notorious forms of breast cancer is to be targeted in a new study by an Auckland University researcher and cancer survivor.
Dr Euphemia Leung, a senior research fellow at the Auckland Cancer Research Centre, is investigating potential new inhibitors to combat triple negative breast cancer (TNBC).
The condition is harder to treat than other breast cancers and often more aggressive.
The new drugs that have made such a difference for patients with other forms of breast cancer don't work in TNBC, leaving chemotherapy as the mainstay of their treatment.
Many patients develop resistance to chemotherapy, allowing their cancers to spread and ultimately to kill them.
Leung, a breast cancer survivor herself, will work with two enzymes, TDP1 and TDP2, which were recently identified as probable culprits in the development of chemo-resistance in some tumours.
Researchers believe new drugs that inhibit TDP1 and TDP2 could help the chemotherapy to continue working in TNBC patients.
Leung's project will test powerful new drug compounds in the lab, to see which ones work best against TDP1 and 2.
If her two-year project reaches a successful conclusion, the project would move forward into the next stage of drug development.
The project has been supported with an $80,000 grant as part of the New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation's Belinda Scott Science Fellowship.
"Drug development is a long road, not for the faint-hearted," said the foundation's chief executive, Evangelia Henderson.
"But Euphemia is a top-notch researcher with an excellent reputation internationally - if anyone can figure out what's going on with TDP1 and 2, it's her."
Meanwhile, another researcher, Otago University graduate Lizhou Liu, has been awarded a grant to run a six-month pilot at Dunedin Hospital of a tai chi exercise programme that aims to reduce negative side-effects of breast cancer treatments and improve patient health.
There were several highly effective treatments for breast cancer, but almost all patients suffer side-effects that ranged from unpleasant to life-threatening.
There was growing evidence overseas that tai chi improved wellbeing and physical health of breast cancer survivors, but so far, researchers hadn't yet studied the meditation as part of active treatment to improve tolerability of drugs and other treatments.
And there have been no New Zealand-based studies of tai chi in cancer patients or survivors.
Liu's goal is to determine how a larger randomised trial of tai chi for breast cancer patients might work, including understanding how acceptable the exercise is to patients, defining clinical measures of effectiveness, and discerning whether tai chi has any negative effects.
If the pilot proves successful, Ms Liu would aim to get a larger trial underway.
"I see this project as a chance to look at how we can add a complementary therapy into conventional breast cancer treatment here in New Zealand," Liu said.
"My hope is that this study will be of real help to Kiwi women."