Targeting genes to stop breast tumours
Some breast cancers do not respond to currently available chemotherapy. These tumours can contain cancer cells with stem cell-like properties which lack the molecular receptors that current medicines target.
In 'triple-negative' breast cancers, cells lack molecular receptors for the hormones oestrogen and progesterone and so they cannot be treated with breast cancer treatments that work by blocking these receptors.
Such tumours make up an estimated 15% to 20% of breast cancers. They tend to occur in younger women, black women, and women carrying BRCA1 gene mutations.
Recent work has characterised these cancer cells and found they have certain genes controlling their growth and proliferation.
By blocking the activity of several genes, the researchers were able to suppress cell growth. Inhibiting drugs already exist for five of the genes identified as they are similar to genes involved in certain blood cancers.
Studies have already shown that drugs designed to target these genes can stop breast tumours growing in mice and now medicines that target two of the genes identified are in advanced clinical trials.