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Addressing critical gaps in breast cancer research

Breast cancer will claim more than *185,000 lives in the UK by 2030, with a similar trend expected in the Republic of Ireland, if 10 critical gaps that exist in breast cancer research are not urgently addressed.

This landmark research, published recently in the international open access journal, Breast Cancer Research** is a unique collaboration of over 100 internationally recognised scientists, clinicians and healthcare professionals from the UK and Ireland.

During 2012, the leading UK research charity, Breast Cancer Campaign, facilitated a series of workshops, each covering a specialty area of breast cancer. Nine expert groups each focused on identifying the key gaps in their thematic area and detailing how these gaps could be addressed. The summary papers from each group were reviewed by an external executive advisory board of international experts before being amalgamated into this single publication.

Ten priority gaps identified cover areas of genetics, prevention, diagnosis, treatment & support. Five key strategic solutions to address these gaps and to help treat & support breast cancer patients were also proposed. These include funding resources, supporting research infrastructure, multidisciplinary collaborations as well as improved methods of studying the disease, testing treatments and designing clinical trials.

Conway Fellow and Director of the Irish Cancer Society Collaborative Cancer Research Centre BREAST-PREDICT, Professor William Gallagher led the working group on Novel Targeted Therapies, Preclinical Research and Biomarkers.

Professor Gallagher commented, “Overcoming these gap areas by prioritising this research will reduce over-treatment of breast cancer patients by identifying those who will benefit from chemotherapy or radiotherapy, and improve patient outcome by tailoring treatment to each individual.”

The UK charity will now use the findings of this research to inform their new action plan, ‘Help us find the cures’. The charity aim to raise £100 million over the next decade to tackle the critical gaps identified.
In Ireland, the Irish Cancer Society have similarly committed the proceeds of fundraising, in part due to the Breast Cancer Awareness Month campaign ‘Get the Girls’, to research with the launch of an Irish Cancer Society Collaborative Cancer Research Centre, BREAST-PREDICT in August 2013. The ultimate goal of this research is personalised medicine that will allow tailored treatments for individual patients based on the characteristics of their particular tumour and, thus, improve outcomes for breast cancer patients both in Ireland and worldwide.

Irish Cancer Society BREAST-PREDICT researchers, Professor Bryan Hennessy (Irish Co-operative Oncology Research Group), Professor Rosemary O’ Connor (University College Cork) and Professor Leonie Young (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) were also involved in the Breast Cancer Campaign study. Crucially, the Irish Cancer Society Collaborative Cancer Research Centre BREAST-PREDICT team is already focused on addressing some of the critical research gaps identified, such as development of research infrastructure, and a focus on personalised medicine.

One of the main aims of the Centre is to centralise and integrate existing Irish breast cancer biobank infrastructure, in order to create a cohesive, well-annotated national biobank and database; a resource that can be utilised by Irish researchers.

The collaborative approach of the Irish Cancer Society Collaborative Cancer Research Centre BREAST-PREDICT Centre in bringing together experts in many different fields has been proposed by the authors of this study as the optimum approach for breast cancer researchers to make the best use of increasingly complex data essential for future advances.

*Projected breast cancer prevalence in the UK in 2030. Maddams J, Utley M, Møller H. Projections of cancer prevalence in the United Kingdom, 2010-2040. British Journal of Cancer 2012; 107: 1195-1202.

**Critical research gaps and translational priorities for the successful prevention and treatment of breast cancer. Breast Cancer Research 2013, 15: R92 doi:10.1186/bcr3493

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