Best of Breast: news for week ending 17 October 2014

News from the world of breast cancer and cancer from Google Alerts, for the week ending 17 October 2o14.

There is a belief that cancer is a modern-day disease, but that’s not true.  An article this week shows that a mummy of a Siberian princess had metastatic breast cancer.  Cancer tends to be a disease of age, and in the past people tended to die younger of other illnesses, before they had a chance to develop cancer.  No amount of olde-worlde diets could save them from cancer.  It is as much a killer than as it is now.

Even though this is a blog on breast cancer, I also included an article on prostate cancer.  Why?  Because prostate cancer, is very much like breast cancer, in that it is hormone-driven.  Some approaches to cure prostate cancer can be applied to breast cancer.  In this case, scientists are exploiting prostate cancer cells’ appetite for copper.  Instead of trying to stop copper from reaching cancer cells, scientists chose to piggy-back drugs on copper, ensuring that the drugs reach the cancer cells.

Finally, there’s a cool game you can download that will allow you to help researchers in their fight against cancer – it’s called “Reverse The Odds” – and it’s free.


1.  Gamers called to analyse real images of cancer cells in Stand Up To Cancer game

  • ‘Reverse the Odds’ sees players progress through different levels by answering questions such as how bright the cells they see are or counting a particular type of cell.
  • The game sets players on a mission to use their cell evaluation to revitalise tiny creatures called ‘The Odds’, telling the story of a girl who lives in a world populated by these creatures who become grey and lifeless when she becomes tired.
  • Players must complete each level to restore the world from a washed out wasteland back to an amazing colourful wonderland.
  • Data taken from the game will be used by Cancer Research UK and fed back to their research teams to understand cancer and discover new ways to beat the disease.
  • The crowd-sourcing application will make sure that individuals need not worry about getting their analysis wrong as crowd-sourcing means the results will come from the results of lots of people looking at each sample.
  • Reverse The Odds is developed by Maverick Television’s multi-platform team, Chunk and Cancer Research UK, and available as a free download across iOS, Android, Amazon phones and tablets.

The hi-tech scan was conducted in Novosibirsk by Russian scientists Andrey Letyagin and Andrey Savelov. They stated that ‘We are dealing with a primary tumour in the right breast (pictured, red) and right axial lymph nodes with metastases (shown with green arrows)’ image via The Daily Mail

2.  Mummy’s MRI scan reveals 2,500-year-old Siberian princess died from acute breast cancer – and smoked cannabis to dull the pain

  • A unique MRI scan on a 2,500 year old mummified Siberian ‘princess’ has revealed she died after suffering from acute breast cancer.
  • Preserved in ice in an elaborate grave in the Altai Mountains, the ancient woman – famous for her remarkable tattoos – took cannabis to dull the ravages of her illnesses, experts have also discovered.
  • ‘Her use of drugs to cope with her illness may have given her “an altered state of mind”, leading her Pazyryk culture kinsmen to the belief that she could communicate with the spirits,’ said The Siberian Times.
  • The hi-tech scan was conducted in Novosibirsk by Russian scientists Andrey Letyagin and Andrey Savelov showed the ‘princess’ had suffered as a child or adolescent from osteomyelitis, an infection of the bone or bone marrow, and later from injuries consistent with falling from a horse.
  • ‘When she was a little over 20 years old, she became ill with another serious disease – breast cancer. It painfully destroyed her’ over perhaps five years, said a summary of the groundbreaking medical findings by archeologist Professor Natalia Polosmak, who first found these remarkable human remains.
  • ‘During the imaging of mammary glands, we paid attention to their asymmetric structure and the varying asymmetry of the MR signal,’ stated Dr Letyagin.
  • ‘We are dealing with a primary tumour in the right breast and right axial lymph nodes with metastases.
  • ‘The three first thoracic vertebrae showed a statistically significant decrease in MR signal and distortion of the contours, which may indicate the metastatic cancer process.’
  • Breast cancer has been known to mankind since the times of the Ancient Egyptians yet this is believed to be the first time such a diagnosis has been made on a mummified ancient woman whose remains were preserve in permafrost, frozen for more than two millennia.

3.  Prostate cancer cells tricked into self-destruction because of their hunger for copper

  • Researchers have found a way to utilise prostate cancer cells’ voracious appetite for copper as a weapon to kill them.
  • The study on animals has demonstrated that delivering copper, along with an FDA-approved drug, targets and eradicates copper-laden prostate cancer cells, while leaving non-cancer cells intact.
  • With hormone therapies generally ineffective in curing this condition, it made sense to try another strategy tied to prostate-cancer tumors’ proclivity for copper.
  • The study had two stages. In 2010, using this hypothesis as a starting point, the team tried to starve the tumours’ cells of copper, but were unable to deplete enough of the mineral to be successful. So they flipped their approach.
  • The group screened thousands of FDA-approved medicines, searching for those that needed copper to be effective.
  • One that stood out was disulfiram, a drug typically used to treat alcoholism and which had once been considered as an anti prostate cancer drug. When used in clinical trials among patients in an advanced stage of the disease, disulfiram alone had yielded disappointing results.
  • The team surmised previous clinical trials may have been missing enough copper to fuel disulfiram into prostate-cancer attack mode.
  • “When we injected the supplement copper chloride into mice with advanced prostate cancer – to take advantage of their cancer cells’ seeming need for copper – the tumour cells engorged themselves with the mineral and, in turn, the disulfiram had the copper fuel it needed to work.”
  • “The combination resulted in dramatic reductions in prostate tumour growth in the animals.”
  • Because androgens, the male hormone that fuel prostate cancer, increase copper accumulation in these cancer cells, the disulfiram and copper combination might prove especially beneficial for prostate cancer patients who had disappointing results while on hormone-therapy medication.
  • The Duke team anticipates going to human clinical trials within six months with patients in late-stage disease, using two separate oral doses of a copper supplement and disulfiram.
  • “After we’ve proven the clinical efficacy of this combination, as well as demonstrated the optimal oral dosages and timing of the delivery of the copper, we believe there will be an impetus to prompt a drug company to proceed with developing a single capsule.”

For more information: Cancer Research 2014 74;5819. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-13-3527 (accessed 15 October 2014), Copper Signaling Axis as a Target for Prostate Cancer Therapeutics

4.  Israeli Researchers: We Can Detect Breast Cancer With Simple Blood Test

  • An Israeli company says it has developed an easy and accurate new method for detecting breast cancer.
  • The technique, developed by the company Eventus Diagnostics, involves a simple blood test measuring how the body’s immune system reacts to the presence of a cancer tumor
  • The test is marketed under the name “Octava Pink.”

For more information:

5.  Blocking two proteins in the body reduces the ability of breast cancer cells to survive and grow

  • Scientists have identified a new pathway that breast cancer cells rely on to stay active, and it is hoped that the findings will increase survival rates of women with the disease.
  • The team investigated two proteins (Tra2β and Tra2α) that are found in large amounts in breast cancer cells, and discovered that when they removed the proteins, they were able to ‘turn off’ a third protein (CHK1, also known as ‘checkpoint kinase 1’), which reduced the ability of the cancer cells to divide and grow.
  • The researchers are the first to find a link between the Tra2β, Tra2α and CHK1, which is a well-known protein that helps cancer cells to repair mistakes in their chromosomes.

For more information:  Nature Communications 5, Article number:4760doi:10.1038/ ncomms 5760, Human Tra2 proteins jointly control a ​CHEK1 splicing switch among alternative and constitutive target exons

6.  New treatment target identified for Her-2 resistant cancer

  • The gene ErbB2, commonly called HER2, is highly expressed in about 25 percent of breast cancers.
  • Scientists have now found the protein Erbin, thought to be an anti-tumor factor, also is highly expressed in these cancers and essential to ErbB2’s support of breast cancer.
  • When scientists interfere with the interaction between the two in mice, it inhibits tumor development and the usual spread to the lungs.
  • The findings point toward a new therapeutic target for aggressive breast cancer and potentially an adjunct for women who become resistant to Herceptin, or trastuzumab, the drug commonly given to ErbB2-positive patients.
  • Erbin, which is also expressed in healthy breast tissue, is critical to the stability and activity of aggressive, ErbB2-positive breast cancer, the research shows.
  • When the scientists decreased Erbin levels, either by a gene therapy technique that reduced its production or a peptide that interfered with its interaction with ErbB2, breast cancer growth and spread was dramatically reduced or eliminated.
  • “Erbin is an intracellular molecule that binds to ErbB2 and stabilizes it.  If you take it out, ErbB2 becomes unstable.”
  • ErbB2, on the other hand, typically extends both outside and inside breast cancer cells.
  • Drugs such as Herceptin degrade excessive levels of the oncogene by targeting the portion that sticks out of the cell, which can be powerfully effective, moving patients from high-risk to a potential cure.
  • But the tumors are very smart.  In this case, breast cancer cells can mutate so they no longer have an external protrusion of ErbB2, leaving Herceptin without a place to bind.
  • While getting inside the cells can be more difficult, the ability to target intracellular Erbin could one day make a difference for these patients.
  • Erbin itself could be a novel target: you disrupt the interaction, and it will be therapeutic.
  • Secondly, when a patient becomes Herceptin-resistant because the extracellular domain of ErbB2 is lost, this approach should still be effective because of the critical interaction of the two.

For more information:  PNAS October 6, 2014Role of Erbin in ErbB2-dependent breast tumor growth


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