Researchers at the University of Galway have determined that biomarkers known as microRNAs can help predict which patients with breast cancer are likely to face a recurrence of the disease and death.

The researchers, led by Matthew Davey, PhD, Professor Michael Kerin, and Nicola Miller, PhD, from the University’s College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, conducted a multicenter trial In Ireland, involving 124 patients who were treated with chemotherapy. 

The research findings have been published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons (JACS). 

They include: 

  • MiRNAs can be used as a biomarker to predict which patients are likely to face breast cancer recurrence and mortality.
  • Researchers conducting a multicentre trial in Ireland drew blood samples from 124 patients with breast cancer at 5 different timepoints during their cancer journey, and assessed their outcomes almost nine years later.
  • Researchers say their discovery of the predictive value of miR-145 could help physicians better tailor treatment to the need of each patient being treated for breast cancer.

According to figures from the National Cancer Registry of Ireland, over 3,500 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. While long-term outcomes have improved for patients with breast cancer, the most common cancer diagnosed in women, 20% to 30% of these patients will see their breast cancer relapse. 

“The process of identifying which patients are more likely to have a recurrence has been a challenge,” Davey says. “Therefore we set out to determine whether miRNAs -small, non-coding molecules that modulate genetic expression and affect cancer development – are capable of predicting which patients are more likely to have a recurrence of, and die from, breast cancer. We discovered that patients with an increased expression of a certain type of miRNA, called miR-145, are unlikely to have a recurrence of breast cancer.”

Davey added: “We showed that increased expression of this biomarker, which was measured in patients’ blood samples during chemotherapy, actually predicted their long-term oncological outcome. We can predict those who are likely to suffer recurrence and also those who will be free of recurrence. Further studies into the clinical application of this biomarker are ongoing.”

This research is made possible by the National Breast Cancer Research Institute and Cancer Trials Ireland. 

“This study may also help identify breast cancer patients who could benefit from closer monitoring and additional therapies post-surgery or treatment,” he says.

Featured image: Matthew Davey, PhD, and colleague in University of Galway’s College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences as part of research into biomarkers, known as microRNAs, which can help predict breast cancer recurrence in patients. Photo: University of Galway