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To celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness Month we look at Sidra’s important research into the disease

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October we would like to focus on the important research that Sidra is doing in this area. Dr. Davide Bedognetti, Director, Tumor Biology, Immunology and Therapy Section at Sidra explains all about the research that is taking place.

Sidra’s research team will be studying the immunobiology of cancer with the ultimate goal of developing more effective and personalized treatment. In the last few years, immunotherapy has become a groundbreaking treatment for cancer. It uses a person’s own immune system to kill cancer cells by stimulating the immune system to work harder or smarter to attack cancer cells. The evidence for immunotherapy is so good that it can be used, in some tumors, such as melanoma, as an alternative to the more traditional treatment of chemotherapy but it can also be used in combination depending on the agent.

The incidence of breast cancer in Qatar is lower than that in the West but it is increasing. The age pattern of breast cancers in Qatari women is different than that reported in women from Europe and the U.S. What is concerning is that it affects women at a younger age, tends to be more aggressive and is diagnosed at a more advanced stage. For example, in Europe and the U.S., the median age at diagnosis is 63 years old, while in Qatari women it is 47 years old. However, about two thirds of breast cancer cases in Arab women are diagnosed in women younger than 50. The Qatar Genome Project (QGP) and similar initiatives will help us find out why some individuals and populations are predisposed or protected to certain diseases, cancer being among them. Sidra has been involved in the development of the QGP since its outset to support bioinformatics and sequencing needs.

Three immune-therapeutic drugs have been approved by the FDA in the last years (two for the treatment of melanoma and one vaccine for the treatment of prostate cancer). In view of these exciting results, Science magazine has deemed cancer immunotherapy the 2013 “breakthrough of the year.” At the moment, however, immunotherapy represents a highly experimental approach to breast cancer treatment. Results of the first trials using novel generation of immunotherapeutic agents against breast cancer will be released in the coming months.

Sidra’s researchers have shown that some tumors are associated with a low relapse risk, favorable prognosis and increased chances of successfully responding to immunotherapy. The research team are interested in understanding why this happens and why immunotherapy works in some patients but not in others. By using state-of-the art technologies and high-throughput technologies, Sidra aims to understand the genetic basis of this phenomenon in Qatari populations, in order to develop personalized immunotherapies for this aggressive disease.