Treatment resistance

Treatment resistance is when the body does not respond to medications or therapies. It's a major issue in cancer treatment.

About treatment resistance

Treatment resistance in cancer cellsTreatment resistance in cancer for example can lead worsening disease or a relapse until a new therapy can be given. The resistance can be intrinsic, where the disease does not respond to the treatment from the beginning, or it can be acquired, where the treatment initially works but then becomes resistant over time.

Treatments for diseases are often targeted; for example, treatments for cancer can target certain proteins on the surface of cancer cells, or they can target the cancer cells' ability to multiply faster than normal cells.

  • Intrinsic resistance occurs due to genetic mutations that prevent the treatment from working effectively. This can include mutations that reduce important cell surface proteins needed for targeting, or mutations that make cells more resistant to apoptosis, a form of programmed cell death.
  • Acquired resistance occurs due to genetic mutations or changes in the tissue surrounding the disease that happen as a result of treatment. For example, if a treatment is meant to target specific cell surface proteins, over time the cells may learn and adapt to have less of those proteins, making the treatment less effective.

If a disease does not respond to treatment, new medications and therapies will be given; however, resistance can still happen each time. As this is a common occurrence, particularly in cancer, new treatments are constantly being developed to try and bypass this issue.  

Treatment resistance research at Garvan

Our research generally focuses on treatment resistance in cancer. Once cancerous cells become resistant to chemotherapy, endocrine therapy or radiotherapy, they can progress — growing into a larger tumour or in other sites of the body (metastasis). This results in a poorer prognosis. We're looking at new treatments and ways to prevent treatment resistance in pancreatic cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer and prostate cancer.

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