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QNRF funded research provides insight into diabetes-associated breast cancer and its treatment

Qatar is one of the leading countries in terms of the prevalence of diabetes in the Middle East and North Africa region. According to Qatar National Cancer Registry (QNCR), breast cancer constituted 16.58% of all cancer cases in Qatar and was the most common form of cancer (39.15%) among females and is also the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among Qatari women.

In the recent past, diabetes and impaired glucose metabolism have emerged as independent risk factors for the incidence and progression of various cancers, including breast cancers, adversely impacting anti-cancer therapies. Research suggests that women who are 50 years or older have about 20-27% increased risk of developing breast cancer. Reports have shown a 20-28% increased risk of breast cancer in women with diabetes and have linked diabetes to poor overall survival and disease-free survival, and increased mortality.

In response to this emerging critical link between diabetes and breast cancer, a research team from Weill Cornell Medicine - Qatar, led by Prof. Dr. Dietrich Büsselberg, has set out to understand the elusive molecular mechanisms that contribute to diabetes-induced breast cancer and its progression in diabetic individuals. Their research project, “Anti-diabetic drugs in the treatment of breast cancer - identifying the molecular mechanism(s) and key biomarker(s)”, which explores this link has been made possible through Qatar National Research Fund’s flagship National Priorities Research Program (NPRP11S-1214-170101).

In their project, the team outlines mechanisms attributed to this diabetes-breast cancer link, establishes potential therapeutic strategies, and identifies possible diagnostic/prognostic biomarkers. This project aims to educate people in Qatar of this possible link between diabetes and breast cancers and create an awareness enabling them to modify their lifestyle towards reducing the risk of breast cancer incidence in diabetic individuals.

*Shared factors in diabetes and breast cancer risk/progression: For details, please see publication at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctrv.2018.08.004

Through their research, the team aims to shed light on the molecular mechanisms involved in metformin's anti-cancer properties and identify cancer subjects who may benefit from metformin treatment alongside their cancer-directed therapy. Metformin is easily synthesized, and being well-tolerated and off-patent, can be made readily available to those in need.

The project has also been successful in producing numerous peer-reviewed original and review articles in renowned high-impact international journals due to its impressive outcomes. In the project's second year (June 2020 to July 2021), the research team published 16 articles, which have accumulated over 190 citations. Despite the ongoing pandemic, lockdowns and restrictions imposed to stop the spread of COVID-19 in Qatar, the project continued to play a vital role in capacity building among young researchers in Qatar who, under the guidance of Prof. Büsselberg, played an important role in publishing the journal articles and dissemination of the project outcomes.

The team has also utilized their expertise and knowledge to contribute to four COVID-19 related publications in high-impact journals. Based on these publications, the research team intends to further explore the protective effect of metformin in COVID-19. Additionally, owing to the insight gained regarding the potential link of diabetes causing breast cancer, the team also plans to further study the possible link between diabetes and colorectal cancer, another major cancer that prevails in Qatar.

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