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Breast cancer drugs may slow growth of lung cancer

A few years ago researchers discovered that, much like breast tumors, some lung tumors also thrive on estrogen. Now a medical student conducting research on a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) fellowship and colleagues have managed to stop the growth of human lung cancer cells in mice with a class of breast cancer drugs called aromatase inhibitors.

The studies are reported in the December 15, 2005 issue of the journal Cancer Research.

"It was a natural progression of the work that had already been done linking estrogen and lung cancer," said Olga Weinberg, who delayed her fourth year at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine to work on the project.

The findings suggest a new way to treat lung cancer in women a group whose death rate from the disease is surging.

"More women are dying now from lung cancer than from breast cancer," said senior author Richard Pietras, Weinberg's research mentor f at the University of California at Los Angeles. "We followed one of the clues as to why this is happening, namely that estrogen drives the growth of certain types of lung cancer in women."

To see if they could block this growth, the team started with the enzyme aromatase. It presented a natural target because aromatase converts testosterone into estradiol, a potent form of estrogen also used in hormone replacement therapy. In addition, drugs that inhibit aromatase have already made it to market as new treatments for breast cancer.

"The production of estrogen takes several steps, and aromatase is the key to the process," said Weinberg. "Without aromatase, you don't get estrogen."

To confirm that lung cancer needs aromatase, the team first searched for the enzyme in laboratory-grown lung cancer cells. After finding it there, they also searched 53 non-small cell lung tumor samples from patients Using an antibody specific for aromatase and immunohistochemistry techniques, they found that 88 percent of the specime
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Contact: Jennifer Donovan
donovanj@hhmi.org
301-215-8859
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
15-Dec-2005


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