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Genetic test to improve breast cancer treatment

8 March 2010
Appeared in BioNews 548

Scientists have developed a way to identify six key genes which, if faulty, can prevent particular chemotherapy drugs from working in patients with breast cancer. The findings bring cancer therapy one step closer to the promise of targeted treatments for patients, based on the genetic characteristics of their tumours.

The study was carried out by an international team of researchers, led by Dr Charles Swanton and colleagues at Cancer Research UK's London Research Institute, and was published in the journal Lancet Oncology.

The researchers studied 829 genes which are involved in the response to paxlitaxel, a drug which stops the growth of cancer cells by halting cell division and which is given to patients to shrink their tumours before surgery. They switched off each of the genes one by one in the cancer cells - using a technique called RNAi (RNA interference) to silence their expression - and found six which were essential for the drug to work properly. They went on to demonstrate that these few genes could be used to identify which patients would benefit the most from the drug.

Paxlitaxel is currently prescribed to approximately 15 per cent of the 45,500 breast cancer sufferers who are diagnosed each year in the UK. However, it can be ineffective and can cause adverse side effects, such as a weakened immune system, nerve pain and hair loss.

Dr Swanton explained that the new research 'shows it is now possible to rapidly pinpoint genes which prevent cancer cells from being destroyed by anti-cancer drugs and use these same genes to predict which patients will benefit from specific types of treatment'.

Further studies are required in order to confirm the accuracy of these tests in patients and to develop a simple diagnostic test which can be used by doctors when deciding which therapy to prescribe.

Dr Swanton said: 'Now the challenge is to apply these methods to other drugs in cancer medicine and to help identify new drugs within clinical trials that might benefit patients who are predicted to be unresponsive to treatments'.

It is thought that some of these may currently be too expensive to fund on the NHS but that, in the future, tailoring drugs to individual patients will result in more effective treatment and will reduce the cost of cancer care. 'This could potentially improve cancer survival in the long term', Dr Swanton added.

Can genes predict drug response?
NHS Choices |  03/10
Gene test aid to cancer treatment
BBC News |  03/10
Gene test 'could prevent ineffective use of Taxol in breast cancer'
TimesOnline |  03/10
Gene test hope for personalised breast cancer treatment
Cancer Research UK |  03/10
4 March 2013 - by Reuben Harwood 
Losing genes that help stabilise a cells DNA may explain why some cancers are resistant to treatment, say scientists...
31 January 2012 - by Dr Maria Botcharova 
Two breast cancer drugs, Avastin and Sutent, may inadvertently aid cancer growth, a study in mice suggests. The drugs, designed to reduce the blood supply to tumours, were found to encourage cancer stem cell growth, potentially fuelling the spread of the cancer...
16 May 2011 - by Dr Jay Stone 
US scientists have designed a genetic test which could predict how a patient with breast cancer responds to chemotherapy. Researchers say the test, which works for those with certain newly diagnosed forms of cancer, could help women avoid unnecessary chemotherapy....
22 November 2010 - by Sarah Pritchard 
UK researchers have identified a type of genetic variation which allows bowel cancer patients to live on average three months longer than those without the variant....
7 June 2010 - by Dr Tamara Hirsch 
Women who inherit genes linked to breast cancer have no greater risk than other women of developing the disease as a result of lifestyle choices, including hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and alcohol consumption, according to a recent study in The Lancet....
1 March 2010 - by Rose Palmer 
A personalised blood test that could track how a tumour responds to treatment and whether cancer is recurring has been developed by researchers in the U.S...
29 January 2010 - by Dr Charlotte Maden 
Researchers in the US have found that they can predict how well breast cancer patients respond to a type of chemotherapy based on certain genes. The findings, published in the journal Nature Medicine, highlight the potential for personalised cancer therapies in the near future....
1 September 2009 - by Ailsa Stevens 
BioNews reporting from the British Society for Human Genetics (BSHG) annual conference in Warwick: Recent technological advances promise to make some of the hopes raised by the completion of the Human Genome Project a reality, Professor John Burn and Dr Brent Zanke told delegates at the annual meeting of the British Society for Human Genetics (BSHG), held at the University of York from 31st August – 2nd September....
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