Walter and Eliza Hall Institute scientists have found that a population of breast cells called luminal progenitor cells are likely to be responsible for breast cancers that develop in women carrying mutations in the gene BRCA1.
BRCA1 gene mutations are found in 10-20 per cent of women with hereditary breast cancer. Women with BRCA1 mutations often develop 'basal-like' breast cancer, which is a particularly aggressive form of the disease.
A team led by Associate Professors Jane Visvader and Geoff Lindeman from the institute's Victorian Breast Cancer Research Consortium Laboratory have discovered that luminal progenitor cells the 'daughters' of breast stem cells are the likely source of basal-like breast tumours. Their finding, published in today's issue of the international journal Nature Medicine, represents a major shift in the way scientists think breast cancer develops.
Dr Visvader said it had been thought in recent years that breast stem cells gave rise to BRCA1 tumours. "However, research carried out at the institute by Drs Elgene Lim and Franois Vaillant has shown that breast tissue from women with BRCA1 mutations has unexpectedly high numbers of luminal progenitor cells," she said.
"Further, our gene expression studies have revealed that BRCA1 breast tissue and basal breast tumors are more similar to normal luminal progenitor cells than any other cell type in the breast. This places the spotlight on errant luminal progenitors, rather than breast stem cells."
Dr Lindeman, who also heads the Familial Cancer Centre at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, said that now the importance of luminal progenitor cells in breast cancer was known it opened the way for the development of new drugs or therapies to treat breast cancer, one of the biggest causes of premature death in women.
"BRCA1 women have approximately a 65 per cent lifetime chance of developing breast cancer. Following surgery, treatment options available to thes
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Walter and Eliza Hall Institute