Krtin Nithiyandam, a 16-year-old boy of Indian origin in the UK, claims to have found a way to make a lethal form of breast cancer more treatable. It is called the triple negative breast cancer and it is considered deadly because it does not respond to drugs.
It is a kind of breast cancer that shows aggressive tumour behaviour and poor prognosis. Usually, hormones like oestrogen and progesterone drive many forms of breast cancer. They get attached to the hormone receptors in the cancer cells and contribute to their growth. These receptors are basically proteins found in and on breast cells and they receive messages from hormones telling the cells to grow. When drugs such as tamoxifen are used during treatment, they block those hormones and inhibit growth of the disease. But such drugs are ineffective on triple negative breast cancer because these cancer cells don’t have any receptors. An exhausting combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy is required to eliminate this kind of cancer, which in turn reduce the chances of survival.
Krtin, who moved to Surrey from India with his parents, thinks that he might have found a way of making the cancer respond to drugs.
Triple negative cancer manifests in two forms, based on which some women respond to medicines while others don’t. One is the differentiated form, which produces healthy cells that are not very aggressive and grow and multiply slowly. The undifferentiated form makes the cells revert to a primitive form to never become recognisable breast tissue. They spread quickly and lead to tumour.
“The prognosis for women with undifferentiated cancer isn’t very good so the goal is to turn the cancer back to a state where it can be treated. The ID4 (Inhibitor Of DNA Binding 4) protein actually stops undifferentiated stem cell cancers from differentiating so you have to block ID4 to allow the cancer to differentiate,” Krtin told The Telegraph, adding that he has found a way to silence the genes that produce ID4.
He also discovered that chemotherapy is more effective when the activity of a tumour suppressor called Phosphatase and tensin homolog (PTEN) is increased. And that a combination of these treatments could be more successful than the traditional cure, which uses several drugs.
This therapy treatment idea was shortlisted for The Big Bang Fair programme that recognises various young scientists across the UK for their ground-breaking research. This is not the first time that Krtin is receiving international recognition for his research in the field of medical science. Last year, he won a grand prize at the Google Science Fair for his test that might spot Alzheimer’s 10 years before it can be clinically diagnosed. Read more about it here.