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Gene rearrangements behind seven percent of all breast cancers identified

5 December 2011
Appeared in BioNews 636

Two gene rearrangements associated with prostate and lung cancer could also be behind five to seven percent of all breast cancers, according to US scientists.

Professor Arul Chinnaiyan's team from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Centre sequenced 89 separate breast cancer cell lines and found recurrent patterns in two gene families.

The patterns in the Notch and MAST kinase gene families, which are involved in transferring signals within cells, have previously been linked to types of blood and soft-tissue tumours. This research, published in Nature Medicine, suggests that solid tumours share the link.

'What's exciting is that these gene fusions and rearrangements can give us targets for potential therapies', said Professor Chinnaiyan. 'This is a great example of why treating cancer is so challenging. There are so many different ways genes get recombined and so many molecular subtypes, that there's not one solution that will work for all of them'.

The researchers cloned the two genetic rearrangements observed during sequencing and introduced them into cells from healthy breast tissue. Cancer subsequently developed in both cultured cells and in mouse models.

Professor Chinnaiyan believes the discovery could be another step toward the development of 'personalised' breast cancer therapies. By sequencing patients' tumours, people with rare but targetable gene rearrangements could be identified, and treated based on their cancer's specific genetic abnormalities.

Functionally recurrent rearrangements of the MAST kinase and Notch gene families in breast cancer
Nature Medicine |  20 November 2011
Genes clue in breast cancer fight
Press Association |  20 November 2011
U-M researchers find genetic rearrangements driving 5 to 7 percent of breast cancers
Eurekalert |  20 November 2011
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