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Human-based methods for better breast cancer research

Human-based methods for better breast cancer research
Oct 30 2020

The JRC has produced a freely available knowledge base of over 900 non-animal models for breast cancer research. Furthermore, a new factsheet on breast cancer burden in the EU-27 has also been published.

Numbers sometimes say more than words: one woman in eleven is at risk of developing breast cancer.

Breast cancer is now estimated to be the most frequently occurring cancer, accounting for 13,3% of all new cancer diagnoses during 2020 in EU-27 countries.

While important scientific breakthroughs have been made in the field of early detection and understanding of the molecular bases of breast cancer biology, further progress is needed to offer women more effective treatments with fewer side effects.

Why non-animal models? 'The problem we’re facing is that current breast cancer research is too reliant on animal models, mostly using rodents. But rodents provide a poor model for human diseases. We need therapies based on the patient and the clinical and molecular characteristics of the tumour', explains JRC scientist Laura Gribaldo.

Addressing the heterogeneity of human breast cancer

A key feature of breast cancer is the high level of heterogeneity observed both between tumours and even within the same tumour. This has driven the development of three-dimensional tissues, often called 'mammospheres', that reflect the different cell types present and, crucially, the interactions between them.

There are already many advanced non-animal methods being used fruitfully for breast cancer research. However, knowledge about them is scattered across the scientific literature, limiting their diffusion and impact within the scientific community.

The study conducted by the JRC's EU Reference Laboratory for alternatives to animal testing (EURL ECVAM) involved an extensive review of scientific literature published from January 2014 to March 2019.

Scientists have identified 935 papers describing relevant non-animal models for breast cancer.

The JRC has gathered all these models in a unique knowledge collection, which is now freely available to the scientific community.

These models are based mainly on cells and tissues cultured in the laboratory (in vitro), computer modelling and simulation (in silico), or explanted cells and tissues taken from patients (ex vivo).

Breast cancer is the main cause of cancer death among women

Today, the JRC also publishes a factsheet on breast cancer burden in 2020 for EU-27 countries. It gives an overview of disease manifestation in the EU Member States.

In 2020, cancer estimates reveal that breast cancer accounts for 28.7% of all new cancers in women, with 355,457 new cases diagnosed and over 91,000 attributable deaths.

Most new breast cancers are diagnosed in women aged 45-69.

The overall trend is for incidence rates to increase and for mortality rates to decrease, but national and regional exceptions point to inequities in cancer control and care.

Factsheet: Breast cancer burden in EU-27

©EU, 2020

Factsheet: Breast cancer burden in EU-27

More to come

The JRC plans to launch a new Knowledge Centre on Cancer by the end of 2020.

This Knowledge Centre will foster alignment of EC scientific and technical activities on cancer and provide hands-on support to the upcoming Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan and Horizon Europe’s Mission on Cancer.

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