Landmark breast cancer study

Thursday 19 April 2012


Breast cancer cells

A new study could revolutionise the way women with breast cancer will be diagnosed and treated in the future by reclassifying the disease into 10 completely new categories based on the tumour’s genetic ‘fingerprint’.

The study suggests that doctors could one day predict survival more accurately based on these new categories or subtypes, and better tailor treatment to the individual patient.

The research, published yesterday (18 April) in the journal Nature is the largest global gene study of breast cancer tissue ever performed – the culmination of decades of research into the disease.

Researchers from our Biomedical Research Centre were part of an international collaboration that gathered, and then analysed, the DNA and RNA of 2,000 tumour samples taken from women diagnosed with breast cancer between five and ten years ago.

The scientists:

  • Classified breast cancer into at least 10 subtypes grouped by common genetic features that correlate with survival – this new classification could change the way drugs are tailored to treat women with breast cancer.
  • Discovered several completely new breast cancer genes that drive the disease – these are all potential targets for the development of new types of drugs. This information will be available to scientists worldwide to boost drug discovery and development.
  • Revealed the relationship between these genes and known cell signalling pathways (the messaging networks that control cell growth and division) – this could pinpoint how these gene faults cause cancer by disrupting important cell processes.

Prof Arnie Purushotham, a breast cancer consultant and one of the paper’s authors, said:  “This is a huge step forward towards personalising the diagnosis and care of individual patients. In the future we’ll be able to diagnosis exactly which type of breast cancer a woman – and occasionally a man – has, and which types of drugs will work best.”

The next stage is to discover how tumours in each subgroup behave, eg how quickly they grow or spread. More research in the laboratory and in patients is needed to confirm the most effective treatment plan for each of the 10 types of breast cancer.

Curtis C et al, Nature, April 2012

Last updated: April 2012

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