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Mutated Suppressor Gene Leads to a Type of Breast Cancer
Date:12/10/2007

Finding could lead to new treatments, researchers say

MONDAY, Dec. 10 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists believe they've discovered how mutations in the cancer-susceptibility gene called BRCA1 can cause some breast cancers.

Basal-like breast cancers (BBCs) represent 10 percent to 20 percent of all breast cancers. BBCs generally have a poor prognosis, are difficult to treat, and are almost always associated with hereditary mutations in the BRCA1 gene, the researchers said.

The researchers found that inherited mutations in the BRCA1 gene deactivate another gene known as PTEN, which helps to suppress tumors. This suppressor gene is deactivated by the mutated BRCA1 gene's failure to repair a break in the PTEN gene's DNA, the scientists said.

The loss of the PTEN gene's tumor-suppressing ability allows increased cell activity that increases tumor growth. That action "can convert the cell from being a well-behaving entity to a bad citizen," said study co-author Dr. Ramon Parsons, a professor of medicine and pathology at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons.

"This is a very important finding, because this type of breast cancer doesn't have a type of therapy targeted at this point," Parsons said. Basal-like or triple negative tumors don't have receptors for the hormones estrogen and progesterone or the protein HER2, which most breast cancer therapies target, he said. Drugs that can target the pathway related to mutated PTEN genes "may be a way we can improve the survival for women with these basal-like tumors," he added.

Parsons said several pharmaceutical companies already are developing drugs to do just that.

"My guess is there's going to be a huge bolus of clinical trials with these drugs in the next couple of years," he said. "Since there's going to be such a large variety of compounds, my hunch is one or more will be effective." By effective, Parson said he doesn't mean
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