Publish Date: 
Thursday, March 25, 2021 - 11:00


The University of Queensland Diamantina Institute’s TRI-based Dr Fernando Guimaraes has been awarded a US Department of Defense (DoD) Breast Cancer Research Program grant of US$750,000.

Fernando and collaborator, Dr Paul Beavis from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre (pictured together below), were selected from more than 300 applicants worldwide.

The pair, who are Cure Cancer alumni, plan to use the three-year DoD grant to develop novel strategies for the production of an immune system-derived off-the-shelf therapy to treat triple-negative breast cancer, allowing for ongoing long-term protection.

This research will potentially impact those patients who have failed conventional therapies and therefore have a worse overall prognosis.

Fernando says: “For many years we did not recognise that our immune system regulates the initiation, progression, and spread of cancer, now, scientific and clinical evidence strongly supports the critical role that both early and later immune responses play in controlling cancer growth.”

Currently, the majority of triple negative breast cancers do not respond to immunotherapy – a type of cancer treatment, which triggers a patient’s own immune cells fight cancer. However, many new immunotherapeutic interventions are making a significant impact on the treatment of blood cancers, but as yet these approaches have not been tested in breast cancer.

Using funding from the US DoD, Fernando (at the University of Queensland Diamantina Institute), Paul (at the) and their teams will look at ways these successes in treating blood cancer could be applied to breast cancers. The key objectives of the project are to revolutionise treatment regimens by replacing them with ones that are more effective, less toxic, and impact survival, whilst eliminating the mortality associated with metastatic breast cancer.

As part of their research, the team will investigate whether cells derived from a donor, which are different than the patient’s, can be used to trigger an immune response.

“By genetically reengineering immune cells, we hope to target and kill cancer cells more efficiently,” says Fernando.

Paul explains that genetic engineering techniques have the potential to restore or augment an attack response from the immune system.

“We’re focusing particularly on hormone-insensitive cancers, also known as triple negative breast cancers, which currently represent approximately 10-15% of all diagnosed breast cancers,” he says.

“This type of disease currently has the worst prognosis for patients due to is aggressiveness.”

Fernando and Paul are confident that these findings have the potential to make a significant impact on the BCRP mission to end breast cancer, particularly as immune-based therapies are ideally suited to treating metastatic diseases (i.e. cancers that have spread).

“This project has the capacity to help patients who have failed conventional therapies and therefore have a worse overall prognosis,” says Fernando.

“ A major benefit of this approach is that it will develop novel strategies for the production of an immune system-derived off-the-shelf therapy to target cancer.”

The team has enlisted the support of numerous consumer groups to help them decipher what patients both need and want.

“Our ideas have been framed to a large extent by the unmet medical needs of breast cancer sufferers and feedback from collaborating clinical oncologists. The information we gather will be presented in annual public cancer research forums, weekly contact with clinical colleagues, breast cancer stream specific meetings, and national and international conferences,” says Paul.

The research proposal was reviewed and supported by Cure Cancer CEO, Nikki Kinloch, who says she was delighted to be a project sponsor on this grant application.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this news release/article are those of the author and may not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

The article was first published by Cure Cancer.