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Scientists identify overactive genes in aggressive breast cancers
Date:6/1/2011

BOSTONScientists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have identified an overactive network of growth-spurring genes that drive stem-like breast cancer cells enriched in triple-negative breast tumors, a typically aggressive cancer that is highly resistant to current therapies.

Kornelia Polyak, MD, PhD, a breast cancer geneticist at Dana-Farber, and colleagues found that a large proportion of cells within these tumors showed elevated activity in a network of genes called the Jak2/Stat3 pathway. Experiments have demonstrated that a drug specifically aimed to block this pathway halted the growth of such tumors in mice. The report will be published online June 1 by The Journal of Clinical Investigation in advance of its July print issue.

Polyak called the strategy very promising. "The discovery of these targets will rapidly lead to clinical trials with the hope of achieving one of the first specific therapies for triple-negative breast cancers," said Polyak, senior author of the findings that was submitted by a large collaboration of scientists.

Jak2/Stat3 inhibitors are already in advanced phases of clinical testing for certain blood cancers that are driven by the Jak2/Stat3 pathway. Polyak noted that because these inhibitors have already been tested in humans and appear to be relatively non-toxic, it should be possible to begin testing them in breast cancer patients soon.

Triple-negative breast cancers are characterized by a lack of estrogen, progesterone, and HER2 receptors, which makes them unresponsive to targeted treatments that block those receptors. These tumors, also termed "basal-like," make up an estimated 15 to 20 percent of breast cancers and tend to occur in younger women, those with BRCA1 gene mutations, and black women.

Polyak previously found that triple-negative tumors typically contain a large number of "stem-like" breast cancer cells, labeled CD44+CD24- cells, referring to identifying markers on
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Contact: Bill Schaller
william_schaller@dfci.harvard.edu
617-632-5357
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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