Date: January 02 2013
AUSTRALIAN researchers have found a ''genetic switch'' that has the potential to open up new treatments for breast cancer.
The switch allows scientists to change breast cancer cells and make them more responsive to different kinds of treatments, such as anti-oestrogen therapies.
Outlined in the latest edition of the journal PLoS Biology, researchers from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney found that the molecule known as ELF5 can turn genes on or off.
By manipulating the molecule, the breast cancer cell's sensitivity to anti-oestrogen drugs used to treat breast cancer can be increased.
''We've made a discovery that concerns the basic biology of breast cancer,'' said Professor Chris Ormandy from the Garvan Institute. ''ELF5 determines whether cells will respond to oestrogen therapy or not.''
Oestrogen plays a key role in breast cancers. Women who don't experience much oestrogen in their lives either because they start menstruating later in life or begin menopause early have a lower risk of breast cancer.
The finding by Professor Ormandy in collaboration with colleagues Maria Kalyga and David Gallego-Ortega, establishes for the first time that there is a link between the molecule and breast cancer.
Found in all breast cells, the molecule was discovered by Professor Ormandy's team in 1999. In 2008 his group showed that it triggered milk production in women.
Made with British researchers, the latest discovery raises the potential for developing a new class of drugs designed to reduce the amount of the molecule in cancer cells dependent on ELF5 for their proliferation.
Further research could also reduce the incidence of patients undergoing ineffective treatment. ''This molecule could have some prognostic or predictive value to guide treatment decisions … Particularly if we can identify them early, then we can pick a treatment that is going to be most suitable,'' he said.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. After lung cancer it is the second most common cancer to cause death in women.
According to the Cancer Council, more than 13,600 Australians were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008. The overall five-year survival rate for breast cancer is 89 per cent.
There are five types of breast cancer, distinguished by the pattern of genes expressed, the prognosis and the different sensitivities to drugs.
The main way different breast cancers are determined is by establishing the number of oestrogen receptors inside each tumour.
''Oestrogen receptors are a protein that sensitises the tumour to the hormone oestrogen,'' Professor Ormandy said. ''And we've known for a while that if we use therapies that block the action of oestrogen on tumours we know respond to it, then we will slow the proliferation and development of the disease.''
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