Friday, August 05, 2005

Driving breast cancer to the lungs

I don't cover basic science research in cancer all that much, but some news this week was significant when researchers pinpointed genes that drive the spread of breast cancer to the lungs.

Howard Hughes Medical Institute researchers have identified a telltale set of genes that causes breast cancer to spread and grow in the lungs, where cancer cells often flourish with lethal consequences.

The researchers say that the genes are more than markers that identify the presence of metastatic cancer. These genes are mediators that enable fragments of breast cancer tumors to take root in the lungs, according the HHMI press statement.

“It's all about selection, but it’s a combination of Darwin and Murphy," says the study's senior author Joan Massagu√©, at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. "These cells are mutating in a largely random fashion, so mutation that gives a cell an advantage will be selected for in a Darwinian manner. And like Murphy’s Law, if a cell can get nasty, it will get nasty.”

The scientists are hopeful that their research will give clinicians a new set of molecular tools to test tumor biopsies for the activity of these specific genes. This, in turn, should help guide treatment by permitting the early diagnosis of breast cancers that will ultimately metastasize to the lung.

Research that will undoubtedly be followed with more research.

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