Researchers with the B.C. Cancer Agency have become the first-ever to decode the DNA of breast cancer cells, and have discovered that gene mutations in those tumours shift as the disease spreads.
These findings were presented in the Nature journal, and chart the genetic mutations that occurred in the 3 billion letters of the DNA sequence from an estrogen-receptor-alpha-positive breast tumour. It has been said that this discovery will provide unprecedented understanding about how breast cancer progresses.
Chair of breast cancer research at the BC Cancer Agency and Canada research chair in molecular oncology, Dr. Samuel Aparicio said of the results:
“I never thought I would see it in my lifetime”
This study also represents great progress in human genome research:
As recently as 20 years ago, researchers were estimating that decoding a single human genome would require 10 years of work and cost $3 billion. Now that they have worked out the technology, the researchers say they are deciphering several genomes each week.
The team are now building a genomic map of breast cancer based on 2,000 cancers and are also focusing on sequencing the genomes of so-called “triple negative” breast cancers, which are known to be highly aggressive and for which there are limited treatments than for other types of the disease.
h/t to CatM for a more thorough explanation:
The reason triple negative cancer is so deadly is because it does not express some of the common proteins that current targeted treatments work to suppress, like HER2, and hormones like estrogen, and progesterone.
These hormones are all involved in encouraging tumor growth, so suppressing them can help eradicate the tumors. But they have not yet identified what triple negative breast cancer’s Achilles heel might be. Maybe this study will help them find new targets.
Identifying the genome is helpful because it will also help them identify which women are at greater risk for recurrence, poor prognosis, etc.