A Gene’s Critical Role In Halting The Development Of Breast Cancer

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Breast cancer has been the most common invasive malignancy in women worldwide. The number of cases has been increasing due to the modern lifestyles of people.  It is a debilitating disease, since it not only causes physical burden to the patient but also emotional and financial burden to his family. Prognosis and survival rates have improved because of the novel treatments that science offers now like surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy.

However, in 2008, more than 450,000 died worldwide because of breast cancer. Thus, new studies have been and are being initiated to devise new means of dealing with this disease. Such is the study from McGill University’s Goodman Cancer Research Center, led by Department of Biochemistry’s William J. Muller. It showed a new proof that the gene called 14-3-3sigma has a significant role in suppressing the breast tumors. This was recently published in the journal Cancer Discovery.

This breakthrough discovery can lead to the development of new therapies that can slow or halt the cancer progression. Muller also said that this gene is most likely also related to other types of cancer.

According to the clinical observations done before, that revealed the expression of gene 14-3-3sigma  was silenced in a large percentage of breast malignancies, researchers had long suspected that it contributed in stopping the division of cancer cells. The McGill team aimed to verify whether this was indeed true. They inactivated the 14-3-3sigma gene in the mammary gland, utilizing a mouse mammary tumor virus-driven model that expresses ErbB2, an oncogene related with aggressive breast cancers.

Muller stated, “We found that the loss of this expression did, in fact, result in a dramatic acceleration of tumor onset.” He further explained that the two genes, 14-3-3sigma and ErbB2, co-operate, with 14-3-3sigma acting as the brakes. 14-3-3sigma is a normal epithelial cell marker, usually under-regulated during tumor development. If the brakes are lost, the gene ErbB2 can cause the cancerous cells to divide indefinitely. Moreover, the cells become extraordinarily metastatic and they tend to invade distant sites, resulting to rapid cancer progression and initiation.
Dr. Morag Park, the Scientific Director of the CIHR, Institute of Cancer, expressed how pleased they are that their funding has led to a better understanding of molecular mechanisms of breast cancer development, which hopefully will lead to more effective and advanced interventions for patients suffering from breast cancer.



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