Around 7,500 women each year are diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, a type of disease which does not respond to today’s most effective drugs. Many breast cancers are driven by oestrogen, progesterone or growth chemicals, so drugs that can block those fuels, such as tamoxifen, make effective treatments. “Most cancers have receptors on their surface which bind to drugs, but triple negative don’t have receptors so the drugs don’t work,” Krtin said. Thus, it can be only treated with a combination of surgery , radiation and chemotherapy which lowers chances of survival.Researchers have found that some women with triple negative cancer respond very well to treatment while others quickly decline. The problem lies in whether the cancer cells are “differentiated” or not. Differentiated means they look more like healthy cells and tend to grow and multiply quite slowly, and are less aggressive.
However, when cancer cells are “undifferentiated” they get stuck in a dangerous primitive form, never turning into recognisable breast tissue, and spreading quickly, leading to high-grade tumours.
The teenager, who last year won the Google Science Fair for creating an Alzheimer’s test which can spot the disease 10 years before diagnosis, said, “The goal is to turn the cancer back to a state where it can be treated. The ID4 protein stops undifferentiated stem cell cancers from differentiating, so you have to block ID4 to allow the cancer to differentiate.”
According to him, the solution lies in upping the activity of tumour suppressor gene called PTEN, which al lows chemotherapy to work more effectively , so the dual treatment could prove far more effective than traditional drugs. Krtin plans to deliver the therapy in a nanoparticle containing RNA -the messenger molecule which carries instructions from the DNA. The RNA nanoparticle would be encoded to silence or boost gene activity.
Krtin said the next step in his research, which got shortlisted for the final of the UK based young scientists programme titled “The Big Bang Fair”, would be to develop a system that would allow the introduction of PTEN and ID4 inhibitors in vivo .