Dr Sandra O’Toole On How NBCF Research Has Been Saving Lives For 25 Years

Women Love Tech
on 11 November 2018

Over the past 25 years since NBCF’s inception, survival rates have gone up from 76% to 91%. That 15% improvement has been largely due to research that has led to identifying previously unknown risk factors, earlier and better diagnosis, and better treatments. We have 12 years left until 2030 – just half the time to get achieve that last 9%.

Every day, researchers, supported by NBCF grants, are making inroads to new prevention, diagnosis and treatment options. Together, we will detect tumours earlier, improve outcomes and ultimately, save lives.

A future where a breast cancer diagnosis is no longer fatal for anyone is moving closer and closer, with the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) mapping its journey to achieve zero deaths from breast cancer by 2030.

Research underpins the prevention methods and improvement of survival rates across not only breast cancer but across the developments made in science broadly. My work centres on technologies used to assess thousands of mutations in cancer genes in breast tumour samples.

The data may provide the information clinicians are currently lacking to confidently select which patients are likely to benefit from chemotherapy and those who may be safely spared this toxic therapy.

I want to make breast cancer diagnosis even more precise so patients with breast cancer receive exactly the right treatment.

We have new tools that allow us to study gene changes in cancer in enormous depth. I hope that these tools can be used to help decide which patients need chemotherapy and which patients with pre-invasive cancer “DCIS” are most likely to develop invasive cancer.

I am interested in rare subtypes of breast cancer which have not been researched in depth to help make better diagnosis and treatment decisions.             

It may also help predict which patients with pre-cancerous breast changes likely to go onto developing invasive carcinoma and those who have a lower risk of developing invasive cancer and who may, therefore, need less aggressive treatments.

Genomic technologies will also be used to study rare types of breast cancer for better insight and which could potentially lead to novel, effective treatment approaches. Her goal is to understand the molecular changes in breast cancers associated with response to chemotherapy and therefore to improve decision-making and treatment options. It is hoped this approach may further improve the survival of breast cancer patients.

Molecular pathology can provide a better understanding of the genetic changes in breast cancers and help select the best treatment for each patient.   

The strength of this project lies in its potential to link basic science findings with clinical practice through molecular pathology and provide the data so sorely needed to truly personalise treatments for breast cancer patients.

The NBCF’s road to zero deaths from breast cancer by 2030 is achievable using these technologies, combining the efforts of researchers who are all diversifying and pivoting our research methods.  NBCF’s funding is incredibly valuable for my research, allowing me as a medical researcher to tap into the power of what our genes can tell us about a disease. Ten years from now, the way breast cancer is treated will have changed significantly based on the genetic information at our fingertips.

With deaths from breast cancer down to single digits, we want the last 9% to be at 0 by 2030, and with rapid developments and health service delivery advancements, the road is being paved by research and NBCF.

Women Love Tech would like to thank Dr Sandra O’ Toole, Pathologist of The Garvan Institute, for the article.

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