Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Salk scientists use an old theory to discover new targets in the fight against breast cancer

08.02.2012
Similarities between genetic signatures in developing organs and breast cancer could predict and personalize cancer therapies

Reviving a theory first proposed in the late 1800s that the development of organs in the normal embryo and the development of cancers are related, scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have studied organ development in mice to unravel how breast cancers, and perhaps other cancers, develop in people. Their findings provide new ways to predict and personalize the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.


The Salk researchers found similarities in genetic activity of breast cancers and mammary stem cells found in developing mouse embryos (pictured here against a background of fat tissue). Their findings offer clues to developing personalized therapies for cancers. Credit: Image: Courtesy of Dannielle D. Engle

In a paper published February 3 in Cell Stem Cell, the scientists report striking similarities between genetic signatures found in certain types of human breast cancer and those of stem cells in breast tissue in mouse embryos. These findings suggest that cancer cells subvert key genetic programs that guide immature cells to build organs during normal growth.

"Stem cells in a healthy developing embryo have a GPS system to alert them about their position in the organ," says Geoffrey Wahl, a professor in Salk's Gene Expression Laboratory, who led the research. "The system depends on internal instructions and external signals from the environment to tell the stem cell what to do and where to go in the body. It stimulates the stem cells to grow and form more stem cells, or to change into different cells that form complex organs, such as the breast. Our findings tell us that this GPS system is broken during cancer development, and that may explain why we detect stem-like cells in breast cancers."

The relationship between cancer and embryonic tissues was first proposed in the 1870s by Francesco Durante and Julius Cohnheim, who thought that cancers originated from cells in adults that persist in an immature, embryonic-like state. More recently, scientists including Benjamin Spike, a co-first author on the current work and post-doctoral fellow in the Wahl lab, have discovered that tumors often contain cells with stem cell characteristics revealed by their genetic signatures.

As a result, many scientists and physicians are pursuing ways to destroy stem-like cells in cancer, since such cells may make cancer more resistant to treatment and may lead to cancer recurrence. The Salk scientists are now characterizing the stem-like cells in certain forms of breast cancer to arrest their growth.

Studying the genetic activity of organ-specific stem cells is very difficult because the cells are very rare, and it is hard to separate them from other cells in the organ. But, by focusing on tissue obtained from mouse embryos, the Salk researchers were able for the first time to identify and isolate a sufficiently large number of fetal breast stem cells to begin to understand how their GPS works.

The Salk scientists first made the surprising finding that these fetal breast stem cells were not fully functional until just prior to birth. This observation suggested that a very special landscape is needed for a cell to become a stem cell. The breast stem cells at this late embryonic stage were sufficiently abundant to simplify their isolation. This enabled their genetic signature to be determined, and then compared to that of the stem-like cells in breast cancers.

The signatures of the breast stem cells in the fetus were stunningly similar to the stem-like cells found in aggressive breast cancers, including a significant fraction of a virulent cancer subtype known as "triple-negative." This is important as this type of breast cancer has until now lacked the molecular targets useful for designing personalized therapeutic strategies.

"The cells that fuel the development of tumors in the adult are unlikely to 'invent' entirely new patterns of gene expression," says Benjamin Spike. "Instead, some cancer cells seem to reactivate and corrupt programs that govern fetal tissue stem cell function, including programs from their neighboring cells that constitute the surrounding fetal stem cell landscape, or microenvironment."

The discovery of the shared genetic signatures provides a new avenue for scientists to explore the links between development and cancer. By uncovering new biological markers, the scientists hope to develop tests that individualize treatment by showing how the GPS system of a tumor operates. This should help doctors to determine which patients may benefit from treatment, and the correct types of treatment to administer.

Doctors are already using drugs, such as Herceptin, that specifically target malfunctioning genetic pathways in tumors, but no such therapies are currently available for certain aggressive forms of the disease, such as the triple negative subtype.

Although triple negative cancer cells lack the three critical genetic markers that are currently used to guide breast cancer treatment, the scientists' analysis suggests a strong reliance on signaling through pathways similar to those that affect fetal breast stem cell growth.

They found that the fetal breast stem cells are sensitive to a class of targeted therapies that already exists, so these therapies might also work in triple negative breast cancers. Laboratory studies and clinical trials are currently underway to test this possibility.

"Substantial effort is being expended to personalize cancer treatment by gaining a better understanding of the genetics of an individual patient's cancer," Wahl says. "Our findings offer a way to discover new targets and new drugs for humans by studying the primitive stem cells in a mouse."

In addition to Spike, Dannielle Engle and Jennifer Lin, both postdoctoral researchers in Wahl's laboratory, were also co-first authors on the paper.

The research was sponsored by the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the U.S. Department of Defense, the G. Harold & Leila Y. Mathers Foundation and Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

About the Salk Institute for Biological Studies:

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies is one of the world's preeminent basic research institutions, where internationally renowned faculty probe fundamental life science questions in a unique, collaborative, and creative environment. Focused both on discovery and on mentoring future generations of researchers, Salk scientists make groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of cancer, aging, Alzheimer's, diabetes and infectious diseases by studying neuroscience, genetics, cell and plant biology, and related disciplines.

Faculty achievements have been recognized with numerous honors, including Nobel Prizes and memberships in the National Academy of Sciences. Founded in 1960 by polio vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk, M.D., the Institute is an independent nonprofit organization and architectural landmark.

Andy Hoang | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.salk.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Bare bones: Making bones transparent
27.04.2017 | California Institute of Technology

nachricht Link Discovered between Immune System, Brain Structure and Memory
26.04.2017 | Universität Basel

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Bare bones: Making bones transparent

27.04.2017 | Life Sciences

Study offers new theoretical approach to describing non-equilibrium phase transitions

27.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

From volcano's slope, NASA instrument looks sky high and to the future

27.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>