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Gene profiling predicts resistance to breast cancer drug Herceptin

PHILADELPHIA -- Using gene chips to profile tumors before treatment, researchers at Harvard and Yale Universities found markers that identified breast cancer subtypes resistant to Herceptin, the primary treatment for HER2-positive breast cancer. They say this advance could help further refine therapy for the 25 to 30 percent of breast cancer patients with this class of tumor.

In the February 15 issue of Clinical Cancer Research, the researchers found that HER2-positive tumors that did not respond to Herceptin expressed certain basal markers, growth factors and growth factor receptors. One of these, insulin-growth factor receptor 1(IGF-1R), was associated with a Herceptin response rate that was half that of tumors that did not express IGF-1R.

They also discovered that resistant tumors continue to over-express the HER2 growth factor protein -- an important finding given that many scientists had thought that loss of HER2 was likely responsible for Herceptin resistance.

"Herceptin has revolutionized the care of HER2-positive breast cancer for many patients, but unfortunately, not for some. This work demonstrates that digging deeper into the molecular subtypes of these tumors helps us understand why some tumors are resistant and may point to ways to remedy that," said the studys lead author, Lyndsay Harris, M.D., associate professor and Director of the Breast Cancer Disease Unit at Yale University Medical Center.

If additional studies validate these findings, it may be possible to select those patients that will be resistant to Herceptin and treat them with additional drugs to restore Herceptin sensitivity, according to Harris. "Our goal is to see what the tumor tells us before any treatment starts and tailor therapy accordingly," she said.

To determine Herceptin sensitivity, investigators took a small tumor biopsy from 48 patients with newly diagnosed and operable stage II/III breast cancer. They examined the biopsy t
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Contact: Greg Lester
lester@aacr.org
267-646-0554
American Association for Cancer Research
20-Feb-2007


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