Scientists in Ireland have developed a mathematical method of establishing if chemotherapy will work on one of the more aggressive forms of breast cancer.
The test, developed by researchers at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), has also raised the possibility that a new drug for leukemia could be used to make chemotherapy more effective at killing triple negative breast cancer cells.
It is hoped the study will in time lead to more targeted treatments for breast cancer and as a result better outcomes for patients.
Over 250 people are diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in Ireland each year.
It is often more aggressive and harder to treat because it is not fuelled by the hormones estrogen or progesterone, or by the presence of HER2 receptors.
As a result, scientists have been trying to develop ways of predicting whether traditional chemotherapy will work on triple negative breast cancer cells.
If that could be done, then it would save many patients from having to take chemotherapy which can have severe side effects.
It would also mean they could use more targeted, and therefore, effective treatments sooner.
Researchers at RCSI, funded by the Irish Cancer Society, think they have found a way of predicting whether chemotherapy will be effective on triple negative breast cancer cells.
It uses a set of complex mathematical formulas based on a very specific set of proteins that regulate cell death.
The model analyses the protein concentration as well as other information about how it interacts with other proteins to determine if chemotherapy will be useful.
"It works quite well on in-vitro models on cancer cell lines. We tested it on different triple negative breast cancer cells," said Dr Federico Lucantoni, Post-doctoral researcher and lead author of the study.
"We hope that in the future clinicians by using these models will be able to tailor the therapy."
The study also opens the possibility to use a newly developed set of inhibitors already approved for leukemia patients to sensitise triple negative breast cancer cells for chemotherapy, making it more effective.
The research has found that BCL2 inhibitors can enhance the response of cancer cells to chemotherapy.
The researchers are now continuing the research by testing the formula on more advanced forms of breast cancer in the lab.
The hope is that once the technique has been perfected, they can then move forward to clinical trials on patients.
The study, published in the journal Cell Death and Disease, was funded by the Irish Cancer Society's Breast-Predict research programme.
The society's Daffodil Day is on 23 March.