Fatima Mechta-Grigoriou: Grand Prix Ruban Rose
After spending over 10 years at Institut Pasteur, Fatima Mechta-Grigoriou, Inserm Research Director, decided to join Institut Curie in 2005. Why was that? Because the proximity to the hospital will allow her to direct part of the research of her Stress and cancer team (https://science.curie.fr/recherche/biologie-interactive-des-tumeurs-immunologie-environnement/genetique-biologie-cancers/equipe-mechta-grigoriou/) towards oncology. Things have turned out well. Thanks to close collaboration with clinicians, her team has shown that chronic oxidative stress stimulates the development of a tumor, but that it can at the same time improve the response to certain chemotherapy treatments, including taxanes commonly used to treat breast and ovarian cancer. Her team has identified various mechanisms involved in and linked to a variety of cellular processes, associated with metabolism, cellular cannibalism or the response to DNA damage.
Focusing on a marker for TN cancers
Over the past few years, Fatima Mechta-Grigoriou has made these most aggressive of cancers - triple negative (TN) and HER2 - the main focus of her efforts. “For the latter we have some targeted therapies, namely Herceptin, which have changed the outlook for this disease“, explains the researcher. However, resistance often arises, hence the need to pursue research for new avenues of treatment for these cancers.”
TN breast cancer cases represent 10 to 20% of breast cancers. They are specific in that they do not have hormone receptors and do not over-express HER2. This is a priority for this young researcher. There is currently no effective targeted treatment for women suffering from this form of breast cancer. Unlike HER2 cancers which spread mainly in the lymph nodes, TN cancers develop metastases. For the moment chemotherapy is therefore the only treatment that can be offered to women whose cancer has spread. Although some patients respond to chemotherapy, others do not. Furthermore, a majority of women in whom chemotherapy is initially effective will develop metastases.
A few months ago, Fatima Mechta-Grigoriou and her Stress and cancer team (Inserm/Institut Curie, approved by the Ligue nationale contre le cancer [national anti-cancer league]) updated a marker for sensitivity to chemotherapy. “The decrease in the H2AX protein under chemotherapy appears as an indicator of effectiveness of treatment and survival of patients with TN breast cancer,” explains the researcher.
Fatima’s team is also continuing research into strategies for beating TN cancers. In 2014, with her team, she demonstrated the potential of this anti-malarial drug, known to inhibit autophagy, a cellular mechanism heavily implicated in growth and resistance to chemotherapy of TN breast cancers. Her idea was to prescribe it in addition to chemotherapy - with the exception of taxanes - to increase its effectiveness. And this researcher continues the fight against TN breast cancer.