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New breast cancer discovery could help slow the spread of the disease

Experts have identified a gene responsible for the rapid progression of breast cancer

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Photo (c) CHRISTOPH BURGSTEDTSCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Virginia Cancer Center has found a way to potentially slow the spread of breast cancer

Some of the most serious cases of breast cancer are those that become metastatic, which means that cancerous cells have traveled to other parts of the body. In this study, the researchers identified the gene responsible for metastatic breast cancer -- TRIM37 -- and learned that it could make tumors resistant to traditional treatments like chemotherapy. 

“Despite metastasis being the key reason for failure of cancer therapies, it remains poorly understood,” said researcher Sanchita Bhatnagar, PhD. “We do not clearly understand what drives the metastatic growth in patients. In general, several genes are altered during tumorigenesis. However, whether targeting the same genes will prevent metastatic transition remains to be addressed.” 

Preventing cancer cells from spreading

The majority of breast cancer patients are typically treated using a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. However, once a tumor becomes metastatic, these treatments are unsuccessful. 

Dr. Bhatnagar and her team set out to discover how they could specifically target the TRIM37 gene and ultimately give patients a viable treatment option. She conducted her study on mice and used a combination of nanoparticles and antibodies that were designed to block the cancerous cells and allow healthy cells to flourish. 

“It’s a kiss of death that selectively reduces the expression of TRIM37 in cancer cells and prevents the spread,” said Dr. Bhatnagar. 

The researchers decided to target the mice’s lungs with the nanoparticle treatment, as it is the site of the majority of metastatic tumors for breast cancer patients. The treatment was delivered nasally, and the researchers monitored the mice’s lungs to see how effective this intervention was at slowing the spread of cancerous cells. Ultimately, the researchers observed significant improvements in the mice that were given the nanoparticle treatment. 

“The lungs showed dramatic reduction in metastatic lesions after the treatment in comparison to the mice that received no treatment,” Dr. Bhatnagar said. 

Very effective option

While the researchers plan to continue developing this work, they predict that targeting the TRIM37 gene in this way could be an effective treatment option for nearly 80 percent of those with triple negative breast cancer. They also noted that this could be an effective way to treat other types of cancer. 

“This is a delivery platform, not only for targeting our protein of interest, but for many other chemotherapeutic drugs that can be packaged into the nanoparticles and selectively delivered,” said Dr. Bhatnagar. 

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