New research, published this week in Breast Cancer Research, could provide a genetic explanation for breast cancer. A George Washington University Medical Center team, led by Patricia Berg, has discovered that the gene BP1 is activated in 80% of breast cancer patients. The researchers believe that this gene may offer a useful new target for early breast cancer detection and therapy.
The results of the published study suggest that the gene may be active very early in cancer development, making screening for it potentially useful for early detection. Berg’s team is now trying to develop a blood test for BP1.
Berg has been working with the gene for a number of years, and has previously found evidence of BP1 activity in other cancers – including a particular type of leukemia. Her previous research suggests that when the gene is switched on, it helps cancerous cells survive.
Breast cancer tissue from 46 patients was tested. The rate of expression or “activation” for Caucasian women with breast cancer was 57%. Among African American women, it was 89%. According to Berg, “While the research into BP1 may impact all groups with breast cancer in that there was an overall higher expression rate, the findings may prove especially helpful to African Americans, who disproportionately expressed the new gene.” BP1 expression was found in only one of seven samples of normal breast tissue.
Gene therapy targeting BP1 is also a possibility for the future. If a drug can be found which ‘turns off’ the gene, it could help people with non-hereditary breast cancer. Non-hereditary breast cancer accounts for 95% of cases, and it is in tumors of this type that the researchers found BP1 was active.
Berg points to more than 1.2 million people diagnosed with breast cancer annually and states, “We hope that this kind of research can make a real difference in addressing a major disease. Breast cancer is the leading cause of death among American women aged 33 to 55.” She goes on to say that the discovery, cloning, and findings of the effect of the new gene “could now expedite research to put us further on the trail of treating breast cancer and other cancers.”