The EpiPredict project, coordinated by Dr Pernette J. Verschure of the University of Amsterdam (UvA), has been awarded a European grant of €2.8 million for epigenetic research into resistance to endocrine (hormonal) therapy in breast cancer. The possibility to predict and avoid resistance to endocrine therapy will be a step closer to achieving ‘tailored therapy’ for breast cancer patients.
Breast cancer patients with oestrogen receptor positive tumours are treated with endocrine (hormonal) therapy. However, resistance to endocrine therapy is a major problem. We are focusing on this urgent problem by studying the role of epigenetics in this therapy resistance. We study epigenetic changes in gene functions that arise without a change in the DNA composition. We use a systems medicine approach in which they record epigenetic, genetic and protein profiles in order to predict the outcome of the treatment.
‘Our research aims to contribute to the development of markers and tools that predict the outcome of medical treatments and register the response to treatments’, explains Verschure. ‘This is crucial to achieving personalised medicine to treat breast cancer. Based on epigenetic traits, we want to predict and monitor resistance to endocrine therapy, and based on the epigenetics it might be possible to develop supplementary treatment plans.’ The private sector is playing an important role in the project. The research and training network for the prestigious EpiPredict project is made up of 15 parties – academic institutes and companies – from eight different countries. A multidisciplinary group of 11 PhD students are being trained in the project, including three at the UvA.
The participants are sub-divided into beneficiaries (direct partners), where the PhD students are appointed, and partner organisations (associated partners). The beneficiaries are: the University of Amsterdam (NL), Imperial College London (UK), the Deutsches Krebs-forschungs Zentrum (DE), the University of Milano-Bicocca (IT), the University Medical Center Groningen, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (HU) and Epiontis Ltd (DE). The partner organisations are: Synvolux Therapeutics Ltd (NL), the Fraunhofer-Chalmers Research Centre (SE), FH-JOANNEUM Ltd (AT), AHT Management Ltd (HU), the Rathenau Institute (NL), Biotecture (NL), ClinicaGeno Ltd (UK) and the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich (CH). The project grant covers employment costs, research, training, management, travel and participation in symposia.