Researchers identify gene set linked to breast cancer's spread to lungs

NEW YORK, July 28, 2005 In a potential advance for the treatment of aggressive breast cancer, scientists at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) have identified a set of genes in breast tumors that appear to predict if the disease will spread to the lungs and, once there, how virulent it will become. The findings shed new light on the biology of breast cancer metastasis, and could lead to a possible prognostic tool and new targets for breast cancer treatment.

"Our work shows that the ability of a tumor to form metastases depends on the combined action of multiple genes and a different set of genes is required for each organ the tumor spreads to," said Joan Massagu, PhD, Chairman, Cancer Biology and Genetics Program, at MSKCC, who led the study. "Based on these insights, we can now seek genes for metastasis by other tumors and to other organs," added Massagu, who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. The findings appear in the July 28, 2005 issue of Nature.

In a 2003 study, Dr. Massagu and his colleagues identified a gene pattern in breast cancer cells that are prone to spread to bone. The latest work shows that the genes that prompt breast tumors to spread to the lungs are almost entirely different from the earlier set, with only six genes in common. This finding is surprising as it had been previously assumed that genes that dictate metastases to specific organs did not exist.

To uncover genes involved in breast cancer metastasis, Dr. Massagu's group used a cell line from a breast cancer patient treated for aggressive tumors that had spread to many other organs. From this line they identified cancer cells that showed a propensity for migrating to the lungs but not the bone when transplanted into mice.

Using a microarray or "gene chip" the researchers were able to analyze the cells to see how their genetic activity differed from that of breast cancer cells that did not show a proclivity for lung metastases in

Contact: Esther Napolitano
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

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