Solving the problem of treatment resistance

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Dr Holly Barker

We know that radiotherapy is a successful treatment for many types of head and neck cancer, but how can we make this treatment even more effective and what do we do when the cancer shows signs of becoming resistant to treatment?

In this study, Dr Holly Barker is looking at ways of combining radiotherapy with other treatments to beat this resistance.   This is the only study currently being carried out which is looking at the ‘triple effect’ of adding specific radiosensitisers, enzymes and chemotherapy to the treatment of some head and neck cancers that have become resistant to radiation.

Radiosensitisers are drugs that are able to restore the sensitivity of the tumour to radiation.   Using radiosensitisers have the added benefit of being able to use lower doses of radiation so reducing the damage to nearby organs such as salivary glands.

“This research is also helping to identify which tumours will recur after radiotherapy.  We can use this knowledge to design new treatment plans aimed at overcoming radiation resistance.”  Holly Barker, Oracle researcher & Postdoctoral Training Fellow, ICR       

What have we discovered?

To date, this research has found the best treatment schedule for the triple therapy (radiotherapy + enzyme + chemotherapy) showing that it does kill certain head and neck cancer cells in laboratory tests.  Dr Barker is also looking at patient samples to help identify which tumours will recur after radiotherapy in order to design new, more effective treatment plans for resistant tumours.