Fighting breast cancer at the molecular level

Researchers from the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine and the Baton Rouge General Medical Center have recently joined forces to find new ways to fight breast cancer.

Using advanced molecular-biology techniques, the scientists hope to develop tests that could detect individual cancer cells, allowing doctors to diagnose cancer long before tumors are large enough to be felt or seen on mammograms. This early detection would allow treatment to begin much sooner; ideally, before the cancer has metastasized, or spread into other vital organs. The researchers also hope the tests will enable them to evaluate tissues before and after cancer treatment and compare the results. In this way, they could monitor patients responses to therapy. The tests could also detect patient relapses much earlier.

The diagnostic tests the researchers are trying to develop include blood and bone-marrow tests, as well as tests on tissue from lymph-node biopsies.

The project is under the supervision of Gus Kousoulas, Ph.D., director of the Molecular Medicine Program at the School of Veterinary Medicine. Kousoulas said diagnostic tests for cancer, such as blood tests, would look at pieces of human RNA, or ribonucleic acid. Since cancer is a genetic disease, the genetic code of RNA is affected when cancer occurs.

Cancer first appears in DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, then it is passed onto RNA, then into proteins, which are the building blocks of cells. It is at this cellular level that most patients are diagnosed with cancer, and by that time, tumors have formed and most cancers have spread, Kousoulas said. By catching cancer in its initial stages, doctors would be able to provide treatment much earlier and have a much better chance of preventing spreading.

The researchers believe the diagnostic tests will identify cancer by detecting the presence of certain RNA markers that are unique to breast-cancer victims. To find these markers, the

Contact: Kristine Calongne
Louisiana State University

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