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Researchers Pinpoint Gene That Spreads Breast Cancer

Breast cancer, which is the second most common type of cancer worldwide, causes more than half a million deaths each year.

For patients who have breast cancer, catching it early - before it spreads - is one of the best bets for removing it. It's when the cancer starts spreading to the rest of the body that the situation becomes most deadly.

Now, researchers from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia have pinpointed a single gene that causes breast cancer to spread. Remarkably, just this one gene is responsible for controlling a thousand other genes that together promote tumor growth. Hopefully, by targeting this mastermind gene, scientists will be able to drastically halt the spread of breast cancer.

The researchers explain that the gene, called SATB1, regulates other genes that are notorious for making breast cancer more aggressive. One of these aggressive genes under the control of SATB1 is the growth factor gene ERBB2, also known as HER2. SATB1 also controls many genes that normally constrain cell division when working properly.

When the researchers analyzed samples of cancerous tissue, they found that samples containing SATB1 belonged to individuals with the shortest survival times. And, in samples containing SATB1, the cancer was more likely to progress or recur.

In experiments with mice, the scientists found that introducing the SATB1 into breast cancer cells caused the tumor to spread. But, removing the gene from the cells completely abolished the growth and spread of the tumor.

Unfortunately, SATB1 is very difficult to reach with targeted drugs, and trying to remove the gene could be dangerous. At the least, individuals with breast cancer could get tested to see if they have the cancer-spreading gene, and use this knowledge to decide on the best treatment option.

In the meantime, the researchers are still trying to understand the mechanisms of the mastermind gene. For one thing, they don't know what turns the gene on in the first place.

The results of the study are published in a recent issue of Nature .

via: The Telegraph