Genetic Changes Found in Breast Cancers Confirm Modern Classification
BCRF-funded investigators author the first comprehensive genetic analysis of breast cancer as published in Nature and reported in The New York Times. Similarities between basal-like breast cancers and ovarian cancers are noted.
Published online in the prestigious scientific journal, Nature
, and widely in the press, including page 1 of The New York Times
on September 24, research from a team including a number of collaborating BCRF investigators and centers demonstrates that there may be a limited number of abnormal genetic drivers of most breast cancers. This novel project, part of the Cancer Genome Atlas, suggests that it may be possible in the future to select individual patients for specific therapies that are typically used in other cancers. The findings highlight the fact that breast cancers can share biological traits with other cancers and that research in one cancer can illuminate the treatment of others. A critical next step will be to demonstrate that the genetic patterns identified here can be used to improve treatment for patients with breast cancer.
BCRF-funded investigator Charles M. Perou, PhD (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), the lead author on the study, commented, "These data provide the framework for the further advancement of personalized medicine for breast cancer patients. Through the use of multiple technologies, we were able to pinpoint a diverse set of genetic changes, which are the likely causes of the four major breast cancer disease subtypes. BCRF supported numerous authors of this paper, and personally allowed me to perform many of the experiments that laid the conceptual foundations on which this paper was based."
This project is the first comprehensive genetic analysis of breast cancer. It is the widest ranging research collaboration on breast cancer genomics to date and the contributions of the lead authors build on earlier and current research grants from the Foundation, as well as support from the National Institutes of Health and other philanthropic entities. "This study emphasizes the power of creativity, collaboration, and resources to help us reach a deeper understanding of the causes of some cancers and potential treatment approaches," emphasized Clifford Hudis, MD (Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center), Chairman of BCRF's Scientific Advisory Board. "It highlights the fact that breast cancers can share biological traits with other cancers and that research in one cancer can illuminate the treatment of others."
"The Cancer Genome Atlas lays the foundation for a new and much more informed approach to developing cures for all our patients," stated Matthew J. Ellis, MD, PhD (Washington University School of Medicine), the BCRF grantee leading the disease working group charged with the responsibility of making sense of the clinical implications of the data. "For instance, we now know that basal-like breast cancer and ovarian cancer are very similar genetically, so is it possible to make better use of standard chemotherapies to more specifically treat this highly lethal form of breast cancer? Similarly, can we repurpose targeted agents currently used for other cancers in breast cancer treatment? Also, can we apply our data to help prioritize drugs in development?"
"This work is a terrific start," said BCRF Scientific Director, Larry Norton, MD (Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center). "We have drafted a roadmap with the cities and villages indicated, but not yet all the roads, bridges, and stop signs. To build on this important achievement we need to explore how the genes are connected and how they work together, which BCRF investigators are doing. We also need to assess how cancers in the breast (the subject of this study) relate to cancers that have metastasized, and how cancer cells relate to the normal cells around them. This knowledge is moving us toward not just cure, but breast cancer prevention as well."