Washington: Scientists have uncovered a genetic pathway that affects the development of breast cancer.
The discovery could help predict which patients are at risk of relapse for the disease.
By studying which genes are expressed - or "turned on" - in breast cancer, research led by Michigan State University``s Eran Andrechek uncovered a role for several members of the E2F family of genes, which control cell division and growth.
Specifically, Andrechek``s team found the activation of the specific gene E2F2 was associated with a higher probability of breast cancer relapse in humans. The research team, using rodent models, also found that removing the E2F2 gene significantly decreased the likelihood of a tumor.
"Genomic signatures - how genes interact and via what pathways - are a rapidly growing and a powerful method to analyze specific genes in the development, recurrence and spread of breast cancer," said Andrechek, an assistant professor in the MSU Department of Physiology and lead author of the paper.
After identifying which genes are being activated, physicians can tailor treatments for breast cancer and other diseases to individuals with certain genetic makeups. For example, breast cancer patients with over-expression of a gene called HER2 are currently treated with the antibody Herceptin, which specifically targets the cells over-expressing HER2.
"With personalized medicine, we can use predictions of how genes will interact, and based on that we can make better use of existing treatments that will have more of an impact," Andrechek said.
As part of the research, Andrechek and his team focused on tumors initiated by Myc, a gene that is amplified in 15 percent of all human breast cancer cases. The team then analyzed the tumors to test which pathways were critical to tumor growth, first in computer models and then in rodent models.
The findings are to be published in the journal Cancer Research.