Preventing the outgrowth of cancers that spread to bone


Lead Researcher: Dr Michelle McDonald

Institution: Garvan Institute of Medical Research

Cancer Council NSW Funding: $447,548

Funding Duration: 2020 – 2022


A number of cancers commonly spread to bone where they cause pain and destruction and ultimately reduce survival rates. Bone is one of the most common sites for cancer to spread to. Cancer cells spread to bone in up to 80% of patients with advanced breast cancer, and almost all patients with Multiple Myeloma will suffer from bone damage. 

Patients with myeloma or other cancers that have spread to bone are often treated with drugs that strengthen bones, called antiresorptive therapies, to try and prevent further bone destruction. Evidence suggests that these drugs can also reduce the likelihood of cancer recurring in bone. 

The Research

Dr Michelle McDonald and her team are in a unique position to examine exactly how antiresorptive drugs help to keep cancer cells in bone at bay. In a previous project funded by Cancer Council NSW, the team developed a world-first technique to watch single cancer cells in living bone. In this project, the team will use this technique to visualise the interactions between cancer cells and the bone microenvironment and, importantly, to watch how anti-resorptive agents suppress the growth of cancer cells.

The Impact

Dr McDonald hopes her team’s work will prevent the outgrowth of cancers in bone, thereby impacting significantly on cancer survivorship and quality of life. Given the survival outcomes for myeloma are poor and the fact that 1 in 8 women will suffer from breast cancer by the age of 85, the potential impact of eradicating cancer growth in bone in patients with myeloma or breast cancer are significant. Although the team’s work focuses on myeloma and breast cancer, their findings could also have implications for other cancers where spread to bone is common such as prostate, lung and thyroid.


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