Fight Against Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Takes Three Steps Forward
In research published in the Jan. 21 issue of The Journal of Cell Biology, a team led bySusana Gonzalo, Ph.D., assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Saint Louis University, has discovered a molecular pathway that contributes to triple-negative breast cancer, an often deadly and treatment resistant form of cancer that tends to strike younger women. In addition, Gonzalo and her team identified vitamin D and some protease inhibitors as possible new therapies and discovered a set of three biomarkers that can help to identify patients who could benefit from the treatment.
In the recent breakthrough, which was funded in part by a $500,000 Department of Defense grant, Gonzalo’s lab identified one pathway that is activated in breast cancers with the poorest prognosis, such as those classified as triple-negative. These cancers often strike younger women and are harder to treat than any other type of breast cancer. Women who are born with BRCA1 gene mutations are at increased risk for developing breast and ovarian cancers within their lifetime, and the tumors that arise are frequently the triple-negative type. Although chemotherapy is the most effective treatment for triple-negative breast cancer, it has profound secondary effects. Understanding the biology of triple-negative breast cancers will help to develop less toxic therapeutic strategies.
Experiments performed in Gonzalo’s laboratory, in collaboration with the laboratories of Xavier Matias-Guiu and Adriana Duso (IRBLleida, Spain), showed that activation of this novel pathway not only allows tumor cells to grow unchecked, but also explains the reduced sensitivity of these types of tumors to current therapeutic strategies. Importantly, vitamin D plays a role in turning off this pathway, providing a safe and cost-effective strategy to fight these types of tumors.
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