Looking for Breast Cancer in the Genes

One thing that makes breast cancer such a dangerous opponent is its risk of spreading to other parts of the body. Unfortunately, cancer doctors can’t be completely sure if breast cancer will spread once spotted. A specific gene could provide doctors with this crucial information.

A Crucial Clue?

This was the opinion of a team of researchers from Upstate Medical University, who published their findings in the journal Molecular Oncology. The study authors contend that this gene may determine whether or not breast cancer will migrate to other regions of the body, a process known as metastasis.

Currently, mammograms are used to determine if a patient has developed breast cancer. However, these devices have their limitations, as they cannot predict if the cancer will extend its reach to the lungs and beyond.

The gene in question is known as the ABI1 gene, and has been linked to cancer for over twenty years. The Upstate Medical team found that women with higher levels of this gene not only faced shorter relapse times, but were more likely to succumb to this disease.

“The study carries significant potential to be utilized in clinical diagnosis in the future,” stated senior study author Dr. Leszek Kotula. “Our paper is producing a new kind of paradigm. By analyzing the primary tumor gene expression, we can predict, with very high potential to be correct, whether this tumor metastasizes in the future, in ten years, in 20 years, based on the collaboration of seven genes.”

Shutting off the Spread

The research team first conducted an experiment using a mouse model. For some of these rodents, the study authors disabled one copy of the gene. For others, only one copy was shut off. In the latter group, the spread of breast cancer slowed notably. In mice with both copies of this gene disabled, the team found that the cancer metastasis had almost completely stopped. The researchers then applied these findings to human subjects with a history of breast cancer.

“I started breast cancer (research) because I was puzzled by the discordant function of the protein/gene in different types of cancer,” stated Kotula in an Upstate Medical University press release. “It’s very interesting. We are coming to an understanding about this gene’s role, and it all makes sense now. But we need to do a lot of research. It’s a homeostatic gene. Too much is bad, too little is bad. You need to have a certain level. The homeostatic genes like ABI1 often play a critical role in drug treatment sensitivities and resistance.”

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