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April 11, 2007

Genetic 'Gang of 4' Drives Spread Of Breast Cancer

Topics: Medical Science News

New studies by Howard Hughes Medical Institute researchers reveal that the abnormal activation of four genes drives the spread of breast cancer to the lungs.

[...] Cooperation among the four genes also enables cancerous cells to escape into the bloodstream and penetrate through blood vessels into lung tissues.

Although shutting off these genes individually can slow cancer growth and metastasis, the researchers found that turning off all four together had a far more dramatic effect on halting cancer growth and metastasis. Metastasis occurs when cells from a primary tumor break off and invade another organ. It is the deadliest transformation that a cancer can undergo, and therefore researchers have been looking for specific genes that propel metastasis.

In the newly published experiments, the researchers also found that they could reduce the growth and spread of human breast tumors in mice by simultaneously targeting two of the proteins produced by these genes, using drugs already on the market. The researchers are exploring clinical testing of combination therapy with the drugs--cetuximab (trade name Erbitux) and celecoxib (Celebrex)--to treat breast cancer metastasis.

The research team, led by Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator Joan Massagué at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, published its findings in articles in the April 12, 2007, issue of the journal Nature and in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on April 9, 2007.

[...] Two drugs already on the market act directly on proteins produced by the genes Massagué's group had been studying. Cetuximab is an antibody that blocks the action of epiregulin and is used to treat advanced colorectal cancer. Celecoxib is an inhibitor of COX2 that is used as an anti-inflammatory, and is being tested in clinical trials against many types of cancer. The researchers also tested whether cetuximab and celecoxib would work effectively in concert to reduce metastasis in mice.

"We found that the combination of these two inhibitory drugs was effective, even though the drugs individually were not very effective," said Massagué. "This really nailed the case that if we can inactivate these genes in concert, it will affect metastasis," he said.

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Posted by Richard at April 11, 2007 3:27 PM


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