New research underway to find link between breast cancer and obesity in Auckland

Every day, nine women in New Zealand are diagnosed with breast cancer.

It's the most common cancer among Kiwi women. Now, new research is about to get underway in Auckland to help understand the link between breast cancer and obesity.

Kiwi cancer biologist Emma Nolan has already made two cancer research breakthroughs in Australia and the UK.

Now, with funding from the Auckland Medical Research Foundation, she's setting up a laboratory in Auckland specialising in breast cancer research.

"The landscape of breast cancer in New Zealand is unique, we've got a very high incidence rate and also the survival rates in our country are a lot lower that other developed countries," Dr Nolan says.

She'll concentrate on a relatively unstudied area of breast cancer.

"So we're going to be looking at the relationship between fat tissue and cancer to understand how that supports the tumour growth," Dr Nolan says.

It's well-known that patients with obesity do less well from cancer, they have larger tumours, more advanced disease and respond less well to therapy. What Dr Nolan is trying to find out is why.

Phase one is to create a bank of tumour organoids, mini tumours grown in a dish using tumour samples from patients undergoing surgery at North Shore Hospital.

"And they really resemble a patient tumour, so they grow in the same way, they respond to drugs in a very similar way and interact with other cells, so essentially they are a model for cancer in the lab," she says.

Michelle McAteer-Ross was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017.

"People always talk about the fact that when you get told you've got cancer that it is like the rug being pulled out from your feet and that is exactly what it is like," McAteer-Ross says.

She took part in a medical trial herself and believes research is crucial.

"Beyond vital, I have two daughters," she says. "Their chances of having breast cancer has probably been slightly raised because of me."

Dr Nolan says it's important to carry out research specific to New Zealand women.

"And together we hope this can really improve the survival of women in our country," she says.

Making scientific advances to give future generations better chances.