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Potential new 'twist' in breast cancer detection
Date:12/4/2009

Working with mice, scientists at Johns Hopkins publishing in the December issue of Neoplasia have shown that a protein made by a gene called "Twist" may be the proverbial red flag that can accurately distinguish stem cells that drive aggressive, metastatic breast cancer from other breast cancer cells.

Building on recent work suggesting that it is a relatively rare subgroup of stem cells in breast tumors that drives breast cancer, scientists have surmised that this subgroup of cells must have some very distinctive qualities and characteristics.

In experiments designed to identify those special qualities, the Hopkins team focused on the gene "Twist" (or TWIST1) named for its winding shape because of its known role as the producer of a so-called transcription factor, or protein that switches on or off other genes. Twist is an oncogene, one of many genes we are born with that have the potential to turn normal cells into malignant ones.

"Our experiments show that Twist is a driving force among a lot of other players in causing some forms of breast cancer," says Venu Raman, Ph.D., associate professor of radiology and oncology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "The protein it makes is one of a growing collection of markers that, when present, flag a tumor cell as a breast cancer stem cell."

Previous stem cell research identified a Twist-promoted process known as epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition, or EMT, as an important marker denoting the special subgroup of breast cancer stem cells. EMT essentially gets cells to detach from a primary tumor and metastasize. The new Hopkins research shows that the presence of Twist, along with changes in two other biomarkers CD 24 and CD44 even without EMT, announces the presence of this critical sub-group of stem cells.

"The conventional thinking is that the EMT is crucial for recognizing the breast cancer cell as stem cells, and the potential for metastasis, b
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Contact: Maryalice Yakutchik
myakutc1@jhmi.edu
443-287-2251
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
Source:Eurekalert

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