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Alternative target for breast cancer drugs

Scientists have identified higher levels of a receptor protein found on the surface of human breast tumour cells that may serve as a new drug target for the treatment of breast cancer.

The results, which are published today in EMBO Molecular Medicine, show that elevated levels of the protein Ret, which is short for “Rearranged during transfection”, are associated with a lower likelihood of survival for breast cancer patients in the years following surgery to remove tumours and cancerous tissue.

“Our findings suggest that Ret kinase might be an attractive and novel alternative therapeutic target in selected groups of breast cancer patients,” remarked Nancy Hynes, Professor at the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research and the University of Basel, Switzerland. “Initial experiments in mice that serve as model organisms for the study of breast cancer have revealed that specific inhibitors significantly block the spread of cancer and decrease the number of metastatic tumours found in the lungs.”

The scientists examined tumour tissue microarrays of more than 100 breast cancer patients who had undergone surgery to remove their tumours. Antibodies were used to detect the levels of Ret in the samples. In other experiments, four different cancer cell lines were used and injected into mice to study the effects of Ret inhibitors on the progress and spread of the cancer.

“Our findings demonstrate that blocking Ret kinase not only decreases the growth of tumours but also impacts the potential of the cancer to spread throughout the body,” Hynes said.

Targeting receptor tyrosine kinase enzymes with antibodies or small molecular inhibitors is a clinically validated approach for cancer therapy. However, only a subset of patients are eligible for these types of treatments which makes it essential to discover additional inhibitors that could be useful in breast cancer therapy.

Dr. Albana Gattelli was supported by grant KG101234 from Susan G. Komen for the Cure®

Ret inhibition decreases growth and metastatic potential of estrogen receptor positive breast cancer cells

Albana Gattelli, Ivan Nalvarte, Anne Boulay, Tim C. Roloff, Martin Schreiber, Neil Carragher, Kenneth K. Macleod, Michaela Schlederer, Susanne Lienhard, Lukas Kenner, Maria I. Torres-Arzayus and Nancy E. Hynes

Read the paper:

doi: 10.1002/emmm.201302625

Further information on EMBO Molecular Medicine is available at

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About EMBO
EMBO is an organization of more than 1500 leading researchers that promotes excellence in the life sciences. The major goals of the organization are to sup-port talented researchers at all stages of their careers, stimulate the exchange of scientific information, and help build a European research environment where scientists can achieve their best work.

EMBO helps young scientists to advance their research, promote their interna-tional reputations and ensure their mobility. Courses, workshops, conferences and scientific journals disseminate the latest research and offer training in tech-niques to maintain high standards of excellence in research practice. EMBO helps to shape science and research policy by seeking input and feedback from our community and by following closely the trends in science in Europe.

Yvonne Kaul | EMBO
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