For many patients with advanced breast cancer, the cancer drug Herceptin (trastuzumab) has offered new hope when traditional cancer drugs failed to work, shrinking tumors and sending some patients into remission.
Now Dihua Yu, M.D., Ph.D., and her colleagues at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center have uncovered a powerful new cancer-fighting property of Herceptin, an antibody-based drug that targets a protein on breast cancer cells called HER-2 (also called ErbB2). The discovery explains why some HER-2 positive patients don’t respond as well to the drug and also offers a potential solution that could allow more HER-2 positive patients to benefit from the treatment.
The study, which appears in the August 2004 issue of the journal Cancer Cell, demonstrates that the presence of a protein called PTEN in HER-2 positive patients’ tumor cells is a powerful predictor of who will respond to Herceptin. In normal cells, the PTEN protein helps control cell division, but in about half of breast tumors PTEN levels are very low or the protein is completely missing. Those PTEN-missing tumors did not respond to Herceptin treatment.
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