Subscribe to the BioNews newsletter for free

Advanced Search

Search for

Like the Progress Educational Trust on Facebook

The Fertility Show, Manchester Central, 24-25 March 2018


Osteoporosis drug touted as potential 'BRCA-blocker'

27 June 2016

By Helen Robertson

Appeared in BioNews 857

A drug currently used to treat osteoporosis in old age may help prevent breast cancer in women with a genetic predisposition for the disease.

While still at a preliminary stage, the study found that the drug denosumab could 'switch off' the growth of cancer precursor cells in BRCA1-mutant breast tissue – a result that the researchers now hope to confirm in human clinical trials.

'This is potentially a very important discovery for women who carry a faulty BRCA1 gene,' said Professor Geoffrey Lindeman, whose lab at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne carried out the research.

Women who carry BRCA1 mutations are at a high risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers. Carriers of the faulty gene can choose to undergo surgical removal of their breast tissue and ovaries to reduce the likelihood of developing the disease but, apart from regular screening, no other preventative approaches are currently available.

'We were interested in finding an alternative option, a non-surgical approach for these women,' said Emma Nolan, first author on the study, which was published in Nature Medicine.

In breast tissue samples provided by women with a mutated BRCA1 gene, the team identified cancer precursor cells that had properties that were very similar to aggressive breast cancer cells.

'These cells proliferated rapidly, and were susceptible to damage of their DNA – both factors that help them transition towards cancer,' said Nolan.

Importantly, the team also found that these cells could be identified by the presence of a marker protein called RANK on their surface.

The protein, which plays a role in cell growth, is inhibited by denosumab, a drug currently used to treat osteoporosis and breast cancer that has spread to the bone. By inhibiting RANK in BRCA1-mutated breast tissue, the researchers found that development of breast cancer was significantly curtailed.

Subsequent experiments in mice with BRCA1 mutations also slowed the development of breast cancer tumours.

'We are very excited by these findings because it means we've found a strategy that might be useful to prevent breast cancer in very high-risk women,' said Professor Lindeman.

It is hoped that these lab-based findings will translate to clinical trials. Further research is also needed to investigate implications of the long-term use of denosumab, which is already known to have side effects.

'[Nonetheless] when weighted against the potential for delaying cancer progression in high risk women, it is a worthy area for future work,' said Dr Jason Carroll, a Cancer Research UK scientist not involved in the study.


05 June 2017 - by Shaoni Bhattacharya 
A common chemical found in household products could increase the risk of cancer by blocking the ability of cells to fix genetic flaws which lead to the disease...
11 July 2016 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
Genetic mutations on several genes including BRCA2 have been associated with prostate cancer; while in a separate study, a BRCA1 mutation has been linked to a particular form of uterine cancer...

06 June 2016 - by Dr James Heather 
After one year of existence, the BRCA Share database has released details on its progress in collating information on variants of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes...
25 April 2016 - by Dr Katie Howe 
Women with a mutation in the breast-cancer susceptibility gene BRCA1 may have reduced numbers of eggs left in their ovaries, according to a study led by Australian scientists...
22 February 2016 - by Helen Robertson 
More than 95 percent of younger women diagnosed with early-onset breast cancer are opting for genetic testing, a study has found...
12 October 2015 - by Cait McDonagh 
An isolated gene sequence cannot be patented, Australia's highest court has unanimously ruled. It is the latest and final decision in litigation that has lasted over five years...

Be the first to have your say.

You need to or  to add comments.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

- click here to enquire about using this story.

Published by the Progress Educational Trust
Advertise your products and services HERE - click for further details

Good Fundraising Code

Become a Friend of PET HERE and give the Progress Educational Trust a regular donation