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Posted 08 August 2014

Charity research grant for UCD scientist to investigate early stage spread of breast cancer

UK research charity, Breast Cancer Campaign has awarded UCD’s Dr Alex von Kriegsheim a grant to the value of €250,000 to investigate the role a small protein plays in the early stages of the spread of breast cancer.

Every year, about 2,600 women in Ireland are diagnosed with breast cancer and nearly 700 women die from the disease. It is the most common form of cancer in Ireland after skin cancer. It is also the most common cancer in the UK and accounts for nearly one in three of all cancers in women. In the UK, around 50,000 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed each year.

The majority of breast cancer deaths occur as a result of the breast cancer spreading to other parts of the body, such as the skeleton, brain, lungs and liver. Little is known about how breast cancer cells start to spread. In some patients, breast cancer cells undergo a transition, enabling them to become more mobile and spread throughout the body.

Dr Alex von Kriegsheim, who is based at Systems Biology Ireland, University College Dublin, has previously found that forcing normal cells to overproduce a small protein called ‘ISG15’ causes these cells to undergo this transition and so behave more like cancer cells. He is now studying in detail how this happens – and whether breast cancer relies on the ISG15 protein to spread through the body.

Dr von Kriegsheim will create computer simulations to study how ISG15 is involved in the early stages of breast cancer spread, which could pave the way for drugs that block ISG15’s activity and the proteins it works with. This could eventually help prevent breast cancer spreading in the first place – improving the chances of survival for the thousands of people living with the disease.

Katherine Woods, Research Communications Manager at Breast Cancer Campaign, said “Dr von Kriegsheim’s research could bring us one step closer to our goal that, by 2020, 25 per cent fewer people will develop secondary breast cancer.”

Breast Cancer Campaign funds innovative breast cancer research, bringing together the brightest minds to share knowledge to produce better, quicker results to overcome and outlive breast cancer. As of March 2014, Breast Cancer Campaign funds 88 research grants throughout the UK and Ireland, worth some €16 million (£12.9)

The Breast Cancer Campaign Tissue Bank, the UK’s first ever national breast cancer tissue bank, is a unique collaboration with four leading research institutions to create a vital resource of breast cancer tissue for researchers across the UK and Ireland. Visit


(Produced by UCD University Relations)


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