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Breast cancer breakthrough

4th December 2006

20072006_lab1.jpgScientists have discovered a method of treating cancer of the milk glands.

Known as lobular cancer, this hard-to-treat breast cancer affects one in ten women with the disease and carries a poor prognosis for sufferers. However, researchers from the Breakthrough Toby Robins Breast Cancer Research Centre at the Institute of Cancer Research in London have identified a way of treating this strain of the disease and hope to start human trials within the next few years.

The team found that those with lobular cancer had high levels of the FGFR1 receptor, a gene which gives instructions for making a protein called fibroblast growth factor receptor. This has a similar structure to the HER2 protein which Herceptin is targeted at. The researchers have suggested that blocking FGFR1 may be a way of treating lobular breast cancers. When they removed the FGFR1 gene from cells that mimicked the genetic features of lobular breast cancers, the rate of cell growth was reduced. The researchers then identified a chemical called SU5402 which stops FGFR1 working and could therefore reduce the growth of these cells.

It is the first step towards tailored treatment of lobular cancers which, in the past, have been treated with anti-hormone drugs like tamoxifen or aromatase inhibitors to little effect. As lobular cancer also responds badly to chemotherapy before surgery, this new research could provide a breakthrough for those with this particular type of breast cancer.

The scientists now hope their findings could also be applied to other cancers in which similarly high levels of FGFR1 could be found. Scientist Dr Jorge Reis-Filho said, "The identification of FGFR1 in this sub-group of breast cancers is a very promising finding and although we are a few years away from clinical trials we are moving closer towards our vision of a future free from the fear of breast cancer."

 

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