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Breast cancer survivor backs new Mater-QUT research biobank

Jane Andersen breast cancer survivor
Powerful change: Jane Andersen is a breast cancer survivor who backs the establishment of a new research resource between QUT and Mater hospital that will enable testing on live breast cancer tumour samples. Photo: Emilie Ng

JANE Andersen was on her lunch break when she was told she had triple negative breast cancer.

One week before her diagnosis, the Catholic mother-of-three found a lump on her breast while in the shower and scheduled appointments to detect if it was cancerous.

“I went to get the results on a lunch break and got the bad news,” Mrs Andersen said of her cancer diagnosis in 2017.

“I was in shock.

“I feared for my life really because I didn’t know anything about breast cancer or the treatments available or what the whole process entailed.

“I went as far as envisioning my funeral.”

Triple negative breast cancer is considered one of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer, counting for 10 per cent of cases in Australia.

Mrs Andersen, who had no family history of breast cancer, beat the disease in April 2018. “Every year that I make to cancer-free is a

huge milestone, and I will celebrate every year,” she said.

“I do believe there’s a higher power at work.”

Part of her success came from treatment at Brisbane’s Mater hospital, which last week announced a unique collaboration with the Queensland University of Technology that could pave the way to huge breakthroughs in breast cancer research.

Mater director of pathology Dr Cameron Snell announced on March 4 a new resource for Queensland researchers that would use live tumour samples from breast cancer patients undergoing surgery at the Mater hospital. The live samples would be transferred to researchers at the Queensland University of Technology’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation and grown in a biobank.

Breast cancer patients at the Mater hospital will be able to donate their cancerous tumour samples to the research biobank, providing a better result than cryopreserved cells.

Researchers could then experiment with new drugs on the live tissues, or treat the samples with certain chemotherapeutic treatments or drugs to assess the responsiveness.

These results would offer clues into what treatment works for particular patients.

“It’s really about getting functional data,” Dr Snell said.

“One of the big problems about freezing samples is that the tumour cells are dead very quickly.

“With live samples we can treat them with different drugs, endocrine therapies, hormone therapies, chemo and targeted treatment, and work out whether they will respond or not.”

Dr Snell said Mater hospital treated more than 1000 patients with breast cancer every year, the largest number in Queensland, providing a large and unique sample to QUT researchers.

Researchers excited to lead breakthrough research for breast cancer patients

Mater-IHBI co-director Dr Laura Bray is one of the researchers who will experiment on the live tumour samples sent to the new biobank.

She said at the time of the launch, the laboratory had already received 10 live samples for testing.

Dr Bray said traditional methods of research used “decades-old immortalised cell lines” taken from breast cancer patients, which did not neces- sarily reflect the reality of tumours today.

But the new biobank would give researchers “realistic results of what the tumour would have been in the patient yesterday”.

In several years, QUT researchers might even find a cure for triple negative breast cancer.

“We’re very excited to have this collabora- tion with Mater and QUT so that research can be pushed forward and hopefully find the next-generation cancer treatments for breast cancer patients,” Dr Bray said.

Mrs Andersen will celebrate being in remis- sion for two years in April, and said she would not have hesitated to donate to the biobank if it were an option during her treatment period.

“The thought of being able to participate in something like that and possibly have a part in changing the outcome for another woman, it’s so powerful,” she said.

“And especially for women like me I guess who have survived, I feel, for me personally, there is an obligation to women who haven’t survived.

“Because I sat with women who aren’t here today.

“I was given a second chance for a reason.”

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