Wits researchers hopeful of potential treatment for aggressive breast cancer

15 July 2020 - 12:44 By Kgaugelo Masweneng
Associate professor at Wits Mandeep Kaur leads the research.
Associate professor at Wits Mandeep Kaur leads the research.
Image: Supplied

Researchers at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) are optimistic they have made a breakthrough in a potential treatment for a particularly aggressive cancer.

The Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC) mostly affects black women under the age of 50. The treatment has been tested in mice with great success, reducing tumours by 74% in late-stage cancer and 94% in intermediate-stage cancer. Tumours are 100% healed in early stage cancer, said the university.

According to Wits’ Prof Mandeep Kaur, who is leading the research, laboratory studies show that the therapy could treat cancer both as a standalone treatment or combined with chemotherapeutic drugs to increase their efficacy.

“I am eager to progress the testing, development and eventual rollout of this therapeutic in Africa to tackle a problem mostly affecting women of African descent. If successful, the world can take advantage to bring hope and life to women and their loved ones across the globe,” Kaur said.

During her research career, she has worked on several projects linked to cancer but it was while working as a senior research scientist in the Middle East, where Kaur was exposed to high rates of TNBC, that she began focusing on the disease.

“My passion grew further when I moved to South Africa because African women are also at higher risk of developing this cancer,” she said.

It was during her earlier studies between 2012 and 2016 that she came across a new molecule that killed cancer cells by removing cholesterol from them.

Kaur and her team at the School of Molecular and Cell Biology at Wits are excited about the potential for treating TNBC and are eager to get started on clinical trials. Funding remains the missing link required to advance the project.

“We are working hard to raise funds for clinical trials to assess dosing requirements and the efficacy of the therapeutic in patients. We plan to enrol 50 patients in phase IIa and 150 in phase IIb. The trials will be run at three different hospital sites. The time frames for completion are dependent on the availability of the patients, but could be as soon as three years,” Kaur said.