Australian researchers have discovered the gene responsible for a particularly nasty form of hormone-sensitive breast cancer. They believe their work may also provide a genetic trail of breadcrumbs to hunt other cancers in future.
Back in 2012, researchers created a breast cancer classification called Integrative Clustering (IntClust), under which they split the disease into 10 different subgroups.
Among them were estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) cancers called IntClust2, characterized by a section of DNA in chromosome 11 standing out, with one gene in particular, called AAMDC, a potential calling card for some of the most intractable forms of cancer known to humanity.
The scientists examined over 100 breast cancer samples and tested for the amount of AAMDC expressed. Some 25% of the tumors analyzed were found to have amplified levels of AAMDC, the majority of which were ER+ tumors.
The team then set to work reducing AAMDC levels in breast cancer cells transplanted into mice. Sure enough, the cells were inhibited and died what’s known as a “programmed cell death” shortly thereafter – i.e. dying when they’re supposed to and not resisting treatment.
The team now suspects that heightened levels of AAMDC can protect cancer from hormone treatments which would typically starve other, less aggressive types and cause them to die, with epigeneticist Pilar Blancafort describing the gene as a “survival kit” for the nastiest forms of breast cancer.
“AAMDC can protect cancer cells from dying and maintain their growth when the tumor is placed in conditions where nutrients are scarce and when it is starved of estrogen which would kill most hormone sensitive cancers,” Blancafort said.
Amplified levels of AAMDC are also found in ovarian, prostate, and lung cancers, and therefore might act as a trail of clues that would allow medical practitioners the world over to track down such aggressive, resistant cancers faster, buying precious time for more targeted and now, thanks to this research, effective treatment.
“Hopefully this will dramatically improve the poor outcomes these patients currently suffer,” Blancafort said.
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