Best of Breast: news for week ending 24 January 2014

Updated 26 Jan 2014 re. folic acid

A summary of Google Alerts for Breast Cancer and Cancer for the week ending 24 January 2014.

Each week, mice and rats have been the main source of cures for cancer (a good time to be a rat or a mouse!) and last week a naked mole rat kindly stepped up to the starting line.

This week, the sloth (or rather, its fur) has joined the queue as as the latest weapon in the fight against cancer.  I make no apologies for featuring it as the top article even if it may not be the most earth-shaking – sloths are cute, and in the fight against cancer, we need some cuteness and light to ameliorate the dark impersonal reality that is the disease.

Anyone fancy a bra woven from my fur?


Did you know: because sloths spend so much time with their legs above their bodies, their hairs grow away from the extremities to provide protection from the elements while the sloth hangs upside down. image credit:

Folic acid:  There’s news that too much folic acid can stimulate breast cancer cells to grow (in mice trials).  This, however, only applies to synthetic folic acid/folate.  Intake of natural folic acid is found to lower the risk of breast cancer.  Folic acid is found in spinach and other vegetables like broccoli as well as fortified foods (such as bread).  So carry on with the green juices!

Radiotherapy:  Scientists are also proposing that irradiating the non-cancerous breast can prevent breast cancer.  Hokaaay … but what about the other side-effects of radiotherapy like heart conditions (if left-sided irradiation) and immune-system depression and creating treatment-resistant breast cancer cells?  And as another article shows, standard radiation therapy for breast cancer can actually make it worse … .  A case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing?

1.  Sloth Fur Might Yield New Drugs to fight breast cancer

  • New research has found that chemicals excreted by microbes in sloth fur had potent activity against a host of human pathogens, and even breast cancer cells, and possess anti-malaria and antibacterial properties.
  • The study found that chemicals isolated from fungi in three-toed sloths were deadly for parasites that cause malaria and Chagas disease (Plasmodium falciparumand Trypanosoma cruzi, respectively).
  • The research was only a partial cataloguing of microbes that live in sloth fur, which the scientists describe as a potential goldmine for drug discovery.
  •  The researchers were surprised, however, by the scope of the fur-fungi’s antimicrobial properities. Very few chemicals have been found to have activity against Chagas disease, for example, and the drugs currently used to treat it are often discontinued due to their negative side effects.
  • A total of 20 of the chemicals isolated from these microbes “were active against at least one bacterial strain, and one had an unusual pattern of bioactivity against Gram-negative bacteria that suggests a potentially new mode of action.” Which means it could, one day, possibly pave the way for new antibiotics.
  • Several of the chemicals isolated from the fungi also showed strong activity against human breast cancer cells.

For more information:  PLOS One:

Sloth Hair as a Novel Source of Fungi with Potent Anti-Parasitic, Anti-Cancer and Anti-Bacterial Bioactivity


Dr. Kim and his team showed that, in doses two-and-a-half to five times the daily requirement, synthetic folic acid supplements promoted the growth of existing pre-cancerous or cancerous cells in the mammary glands of rats.  image credit:

2.  Large amounts of folic acid shown to promote growth of breast cancer in rats

  • The role of folate, a B vitamin, and its synthetic form, folic acid, in the development and progression of breast cancer is highly controversial.
  • Although some studies have found it may offer protection against breast cancer, recent studies have suggested that taking high amounts of synthetic folic acid or folate may increase the risk of developing breast cancer.
  • Dr. Young-In Kim, a physician and researcher at St. Michael’s Hospital, said his lab has shown for the first time that folic acid supplements in doses 2.5 to five times the daily requirement “significantly promotes” the growth of existing pre-cancerous or cancerous cells in the mammary glands of rats.
  • This is a critically important issue because breast cancer patients and survivors in North America are exposed to high levels of folic acid through folic acid fortification in food and widespread use of vitamin supplements after a cancer diagnosis.
  • Those who had the highest intake of natural folate were less likely to develop breast cancer or estrogen-positive breast cancer.
  • His research was published today in the online journal PLOS ONE: “Folic Acid Supplementation Promotes Mammary Tumor Progression in a Rat Model
Trojan Horse

An interferon alpha protein on its way to work

3.  Researchers create “Trojan horse” non-toxic treatment for human breast cancer

  • Dr Roberta Mazzieri from UQ’s Diamantina Institute is working with cancer researchers in Italy to develop a treatment in which a molecule that can help destroy the tumour is hidden in a cell that the tumour recruits for its own growth and progression.
  • “The interferon alpha protein has well-known anti-cancer properties, but previous efforts to use it as a cancer treatment have been limited because it has to be administered at high levels, which can be toxic,” she explains.
  • The study is published in Science Translational Medicine and is a crucial stepping stone to human clinical trials.

For more information:  Science Translational Medicine – Genetic Engineering of Hematopoiesis for Targeted IFN-α Delivery Inhibits Breast Cancer Progression

4.  Moderate doses of radiation therapy to unaffected breast may prevent second breast cancers

  • Survivors of breast cancer have a one in six chance of developing breast cancer in the other breast.
  • A study conducted in mice suggests that survivors can dramatically reduce that risk through treatment with moderate doses of radiation to the unaffected breast at the same time that they receive radiation therapy to their affected breast.
  • The treatment, if it works as well in humans as in mice, could prevent tens of thousands of second breast cancers.
  • The study, conducted by researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC), was published on December 20 in the online journal PLOS ONE.

For more information:  Potential Reduction of Contralateral Second Breast-Cancer Risks by Prophylactic Mammary Irradiation: Validation in a Breast-Cancer-Prone Mouse Model

5.  Subgroups of HER2+ breast cancer with varying sensitivities identified

  • Research led by the Translational Genomics Group at Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO) in Barcelona has not only shown that HER2+ breast cancer can be classified into four different subtypes.
  • This new study evaluated the response of the different molecular subtypes upon treatment with anti-HER2 therapy.
  • The study reveals that the four genomic subtypes in breast cancer (Luminal A, Luminal B, HER2-enriched and Basal-like) are also found in HER2+ breast cancer, and they affect treatment response.
  • HER2+ tumors in the HER2-enriched subtype have a highly activated HER2 signaling pathway, thereby making them especially sensitive to anti-HER2 targeted therapies such as Trastuzumab.
  • Therefore, among the four defined subtypes, HER2-enriched benefits most from specific anti-HER2 therapy
  • Such newly, refined classification of different tumor subtypes will ultimately facilitate more effective treatment tailored to a specific tumor as well as advance targeted therapy against HER2+ breast cancer.

For more information:Research-Based PAM50 Subtype Predictor Identifies Higher Responses and Improved Survival Outcomes in HER2-Positive Breast Cancer in the NOAH Study

Vall d´Hebron Institute of Oncology

6.  Standard radiation treatment for inflammatory breast cancer may make the cancer worse

  • Duke University researcher Dr. Mark Dewhirst found radiation, intended to kill the cancer, actually stimulates the tumor cells to move.
  • The most feared form of the disease, inflammatory breast cancer represents only 1 to 5 percent of all breast cancer cases. It tends to be diagnosed at younger ages than other breast cancers, posing the highest risk to African American women.
  • Dewhirst said understanding the effect of radiation on this cancer is the key to stopping it. He plans to test an existing drug, and if new animal testing works, his research could progress into human trials.

Tasteful marketing illustration of SoftVue. But what if you don’t have pointy Avatar breasts?

7.  FDA clearance for device using ultrasound waves and water table for breast imaging

  • Besides being uncomfortable, traditional mammography machines rely on ionizing radiation to image a patient’s breasts.
  • And as all we all know, radiation ironically increases the risk of cancer developing.
  • So a company called Delphinus Medical Technologies has developed a safer alternative called the SoftVue which instead uses ultrasonic sound waves bouncing around inside a large water tank.
  • The risk of developing cancer from the procedure itself is all but eliminated, and the exam appears to be considerably more comfortable for the patient.
  • Instead of a mechanism that’s designed to compress the breast flat for better imaging, the patient lies face down on a table sitting atop a tank of warm water, and then places their breast into a sealed opening that’s surrounded by a transducer sensor ring.
  • An ultrasonic signal is then blasted through the tank, and the echoed signals bouncing around and through the breast are captured.
  • Delphinus claims that cancerous tissue has a distinct signature when it interacts with sound waves, which the SoftVue can detect and highlight, making it easier to spot.

For more information:

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