Best of Breast: news for week ending 22 November 2013

A summary of the latest medical developments, culled from Google Alerts, for the week ending 22 November 2013.

I actually wanted to put the item on how cannabidiol (a derivative of pot) can treat the pain and slow the progression of breast cancer, at number one spot – that would have been an attention-grabber, but I think the breakthrough on K-Ras deserves top ranking.  What’s frustrating is that there are all these breakthroughs but it will be years before they pass trials and are available to cancer patients.


Image credit – wikipedia – V-Ki-ras2 Kirsten rat sarcoma viral oncogene homolog

1.  Breakthrough: Scientists find way to shut off K-ras gene that causes third of all tumours

  • A gene called K-ras when mutated can trigger the development of tumours and fuel their aggressive growth
  • A drug that shuts K-ras down has eluded some of the best brains in science for more than 30 years, leading many to believe it was unbeatable.
  • Now, US scientists have succeeded in making a drug that kills ras-driven human lung cancer cells.
  • It is hoped that by shutting off ras, the new drug will stop the growth of tumours and shrink them.
  • Crucially, it acts only on the cancer-causing form of the ras gene, meaning healthy cells are spared. This should cut the risk of side-effects such as sickness, nausea and hair loss normally seen with cancer drugs.
  • The new drug works against one rogue form of ras but scientists believe it should be possible also to make drugs that work against the other forms.

For more information:

K-ras – wikipedia

Nature, Year published:(2013)DOI:doi:10.1038/nature12796, K-Ras(G12C) inhibitors allosterically control GTP affinity and effector interactions

Cannabis flower

Image credit: Wikipedia – The bud of a Cannabis sativa flower coated with trichomes, which contain more CBD than any other part of the plant.

2.  Pot treats pain, slows the progression of breast cancer

  • The second-most common active ingredient in pot, cannabidiol, treats pain associated with breast cancer chemotherapy, as well as slows the progression of the disease.
  • Lead study author Sarah Jane Ward writes in a new online abstract for the British Journal of Pharmacology that – in mice – CBD treats the pain from the chemo drug Paclitaxel (PAC) without decreasing the poison’s effectiveness or leading to addiction like morphine.

For more information:  Cannabidiol inhibits paclitaxel-induced neuropathic pain through 5-HT1A receptors without diminishing nervous system function or chemotherapy efficacy

3.  Fragile X syndrome protein linked to breast cancer progression

Researchers in Belgium, Italy and the UK have demonstrated that Fragile X Mental Retardation Protein or FMRP acts as a master switch controlling the levels of several proteins involved in different stages of aggressive breast cancer, including the invasion of cancer cells into blood vessels and the spread of these cancer cells to other tissues forming metastasis.

It is hoped that this knowledge can be used to develop a test to predict the likelihood of metastasis.

For more information:

Read the paper:

4.  Cancer tumour diversity has ‘huge implications’ for treatment

  • A team at the Institute of Cancer Research, London, have developed a new technique for measuring the diversity within a cancer.
  • A single tumour can be made up of many separate cancers needing different treatments, say researchers.
  • They showed “extraordinary” differences between cancerous cells and say new targeted drugs may fail as they may be unable to kill all the mutated tissue.
  • Experts said the findings would have “profound implications” for treatments.

5.  Mutations of immune system found in breast cancers

  • Mutations in the genes that defend the body against cancer-related viruses and other infections may play a larger role in breast cancer than previously thought, according to a study at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
  • Bernard Friedenson, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics at UIC, looked at the DNA sequences of breast cancers from 21 different women and found mutations in genes involved in immunity in every one of them.
  • The mutations were different in each of the breast cancers he analyzed, but all the mutations would have affected some aspect of pathogen recognition and defense, especially against viruses.
  • The finding suggests that mutations affecting the immune system play an important role in the development of breast cancer, contrary to the prevailing notion that mutations in the genes that regulate cell division are primarily responsible.
  • Viruses such as human papilloma virus, which can cause cervical cancer, and Epstein-Barr virus, which can cause certain lymphomas, have also been implicated in breast cancer.
  • Friedenson thinks that cancer-related viruses that are normally harmless can become dangerous if genes involved in immunity are mutated, either through heredity or environmental causes.
  • He identified gene mutations in breast cancer cells that affect their ability to recognize viruses, including some mutations that would be expected to significantly increase the cells’ vulnerability to viruses implicated in breast cancer.

For more information:

Functional & Integrative Genomics, November 2013, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 411-424, Mutations in components of antiviral or microbial defense as a basis for breast cancer

6.  New Blood Test Detects Breast Cancer Early

  • A simple blood test can help diagnose breast cancer early.
  • The new test, developed by a team of American researchers, works by identifying the presence of breast cancer cells from serum biomarkers.
  • Researchers from the Houston Methodist Research Institute and New York University Cancer Institute, conducted experiments on mice models and breast cancer patients, and found that a mixture of free-floating blood proteins created by carboxypeptidase N or CPN (an enzyme that plays a major role in modifying proteins after they are being created), accurately signalled the early stages of the deadly disease.
  • According to senior author Tony Hu, the findings suggest that values associated with CPN not only indicate the presence of breast cancer, but also its stage.
  • The test, that combines nanotechnology with advanced mass spectrometry, is effective in detecting even the small proteins from the cancer cells that appears in the blood after being modified by the enzyme. “Even at the eighth week, CPN activity was still significantly than baseline,” Hu said.
  • The study has been published in the journal Clinical Chemistry.

For more information:

Circulating Proteolytic Products of Carboxypeptidase N for Early Detection of Breast Cancer

see also:

Novel Methylation Biomarker Panel for the Early Detection of Pancreatic Cancer” – a National Institutes of Health (NIH) study that ties certain epigenetic alterations in the blood stream to early pancreatic tumor growth

2012 research from Kansas State University in the US in which a blood test was developed that could give accurate details of the early stages of breast cancer, within less than an hour. The test also worked by measuring enzyme activity in the body.  Functionalized Bimagnetic Core/Shell Fe/FE3O4 Stealth Nanoparticles for Diag & Treatment Cancer

7.  Omega 6 polyunsaturated fatty acids promote breast cancer

These findings are not new.  Research into dietary lipids and breast cancer have been carried out yearly.  No harm in repetition though.

For more information:

8.  Not all selenium compounds are effective in fighting breast cancer

  • Scientists from Pennsylvania State University conducted research into selenium supplements and their effect on breast cancer.
  • Mice were given three diets supplemented with sodium selenite, methylseleninic acid (MSA) or selenomethionine (SeMet), as well as a Se-deficient and a Se-adequate diet before mammary gland inoculation of 4T1.2 cells.
  • Mice fed the SeMet diet showed the least amount of cancer growth at metastatic sites.
  • The MSA diet also provided some protection against breast cancer metastasis although the effects were less significant than those of SeMet
  • Sodium selenite was found to provide only short-term delay of tumour growth.

For more information:

International Journal of Cancer, Nov 2013 edition (article first July 2013) “Dietary selenium supplementation modifies breast tumor growth and metastasis”

9.  Lapatinib Rash May Mean Better Response in Breast Cancer

Lapatinib is a dual tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI) that is indicated as a combination therapy with capecitabine (Xeloda) or trastuzumab (Herceptin).

Early rash in older breast cancer patients receiving lapatinib (Tykerb) was tied to a greater likelihood of pathologic complete response, even though rash was more common in younger patients, researchers found.

Primary source: Journal of Clinical Oncology, Azim HA, et al “Pattern of rash, diarrhea, and hepatic toxicities secondary to lapatinib and their association with age and response to neoadjuvant therapy: analysis from the NeoALTTO trial” J Clin Oncol 2013; DOI: 10.1200/jco.2013.50.9448.

10.  Obesity a Major Risk Factor in Developing Basal-Like Breast Cancer

  • Women who are obese face an increased risk of developing an aggressive sub-type of breast cancer known as ‘basal-like’, according to research conducted at the University of North Carolina.
  • Breast cancer is a heterogeneous disease made up of several distinct subtypes. The basal-like subtype, an aggressive form of breast cancer, is found in 15 to 20 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer, with a high percentage of cases found among young and African-American women.
  • Women diagnosed with the basal-like subtype often have a poor prognosis and cannot be treated with hormonal and targeted therapies.
  • Since HGF levels are increased with obesity, the study indicates that public health efforts to prevent obesity in at-risk populations may be a clinically useful way of preventing the disease. Makowski said that whether weight loss can minimize breast cancer risk in already obese patients is an area that needs further investigation.

For more information:

Role of HGF in obesity-associated tumorigenesis: C3(1)-TAg mice as a model for human basal-like breast cancer

11.  Linking risk factors and disease origins in breast cancer

Researchers from the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth have found that epigenetic changes to DNA are associated with aging in disease-free breast tissues and are further altered in breast tumours.

Epigenetic changes describe heritable alterations caused by mechanisms other than by changes in DNA sequence.

The discovery, published in the February 2014 issue of Epigenetics, illustrates how cancer and aging are tightly interconnected processes by identifying epigenetic alterations present in the normal aging breast that may increase disease risk in cancer-free individuals.

For more information:

Age-related DNA methylation in normal breast tissue and its relationship with invasive breast tumor methylation