Best of Breast: news for week ending 21 November 2014

New developments in the world of cancer and breast cancer, aggregated from Google Alerts, for the week ending 21 November, 2014.


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1.  Cannabis extracts can ‘dramatically slow’ growth of brain cancer tumours, new research suggests

  • Cannabis extracts can help slow the growth of cancerous tumours when used alongside radiotherapy treatments, new research has suggested.
  • Two active chemical components found in cannabis plants, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) were tested as part of research into the treatment of brain cancer tumours.
  • This type of cancer is notoriously difficult to treat and has a particularly poor prognosis. The rate of survival for patients five years after diagnosis is just 10 per cent.
  • A team at St George’s, the University of London, treated brain tumours in mice in a variety of ways, either without any treatment, the cannabinoids alone, irradiation alone or with the cannabinoids and irradiation at the same time.
  • They found tumours growing in the brains of mice were drastically slowed down when the THC and CBD cannabinoids were combined with irradiation.
  • THC and CBD, when used together, helped shrink the tumors to a far greater extent than radiation and just one of the compounds or radiation alone, which actually yielded a negligible effect on tumor growth.
  • What’s more, the team needed a smaller dosage of each substance when they were used together in order to kill 50 percent of the cancer cells.
  • They needed 14 millimolar (a unit of concentration) of CBD and 19 millimolar of THC.
  • Using both, they needed only seven millimolars each.
  • “We think that the cannabinoids are hitting a number of cell signaling pathways, which primes them to the effects of irradiation.  Pre-treatment with the cannabinoids seems to interfere with the ability of the tumour cell to repair the DNA-damaging effects of irradiation. Thus, the tumor cells get wiped out.”
  • The team are now discussing testing the treatment in human clinical trials.

For more information:  Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, December 2014 13; 2955, The Combination of Cannabidiol and Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol Enhances the Anticancer Effects of Radiation in an Orthotopic Murine Glioma Model

The Hedgehog Signalling Pathway explained.

2.  Pathway Responsible For Breast Cancer Metastasis Identified

  • Scientists at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center have discovered a signalling pathway responsible for breast cancer metastasis.
  • Molecules called long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) are known because of their role in metastasis and tumor growth.
  • However, until now, the dimensions of that implication remained hidden under the complexity of the process.
  • The group of researchers reported that hedgehog, a unique cell signalling pathway known to contribute towards many types of cancer, may be the one responsible for breast cancer metastasis.
  • This pathway is a type of molecular message service that works with a lncRNA known as BCAR4, and gives the genetic permission for tumors to grow.
  • “Our study of BCAR4 and the hedgehog signaling pathway has provided evidence for lncRNAs’ regulator roles in aggressive breast cancers progression. Emerging evidence has revealed lncRNAs as a new class of players in the development and progression of cancer.”
  • Chemokines can abnormally activate the hedgehog signalling pathway.
  • If such a situation occurs, an increased expression of the genes controlled by the transcription factor GLI2 is initiated.
  • A transcription factor is a protein that has the power to activate other genes. The team found that BCAR4 is necessary for GLI2-controlled gene activation, evidencing the link between hedgehog and BCAR4 in breast cancer.

For more information:  Cell, Volume 159, Issue 5, p1110–1125, 20 November 2014, lncRNA Directs Cooperative Epigenetic Regulation Downstream of Chemokine Signals

3.  Galena’s NeuVax Breast Cancer Vaccine Administered to First Patient

  • The first patient has been treated in the Galena Biopharam, Inc. phase 2 clinical trial addressing patients with high risk HER2 3+ and/or HER2 gene-amplified breast cancer.
  • Treatment consists of Galena’s new NeuVax (nelipepimut-S) breast cancer vaccine along with granulocyte macrophage-colony stimulating factor (GM-CSF) and Genentech’s Herceptin (trastuzumab).
  • NeuVax acts on specific CD8+ cytotoxic T lymphocytes by binding to HLA-A2/A3 molecules on the surface of antigen presenting cells.
  • It is the immunodominant portion of the HER2 protein shown to play a major role in breast carcinoma treatment.
  • Administration of NeuVax is expected to enable greater disease-free survival in treated patients.

4.  ctDNA ‘Liquid Biopsy’ Could Revolutionize Cancer Care

  • Bits of tumor cell somatic DNA shed into the circulation or released when cells die can now be detected and counted, thanks to advances in gene sequencing.
  • This circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) is derived from somatic mutations that occur in the tumor during an individual’s life, unlike hereditary mutations that are present in every cell in the body, so ctDNA is a specific cancer biomarker that can be detected, measured, and tracked.
  • Monitoring ctDNA is expected to provide clinicians with faster, cheaper, less invasive ways to assess cancer patients’ clinical status and response to therapy.
  • ctDNA assay for multiple genes via next-generation sequencing (NGS) might become a “liquid biopsy” alternative to invasive tissue biopsy.
  • “The beauty of ctDNA monitoring is the speed.  If you are looking for a change in a tumor, based on CT scan, you are talking about not only killing billions of tumor cells but also waiting for the resulting cell debris to be cleared by the body before the change shows up on imaging. That can take weeks. But cell death happens in minutes to hours, so you would expect the change in ctDNA to be a quick effect, and it is.”
  • For more information:  Ann Transl Med. Published online January 2014. AbstractSci Transl Med. Published online February 2014. Abstract

5.  Treatment to reduce breast cancer risk attracts hundreds to South Australia

  • A breast cancer specialist has formulated a hormone release pill which is implanted just under the skin in what is known as T+Ai therapy.
  • The tiny tablet, with testosterone and other hormones, is implanted under the skin, thinning breast tissue over four months.
  • “The more tissue there is, the denser the breast and the greater the risk of developing breast cancer, and the harder it is to actually find the breast cancer.”
  • About 400 women have already had the treatment, with some coming from as far away as Thailand and Panama.
  • Each implant costs about $500.
  • For more information:  Wellend Health website

6.  Cutting-edge computer software helps pinpoint aggressiveness of breast cancer

  • Researchers are using cutting-edge genetic mutation-analysis software developed in their lab to interpret mutations in tumour genome that may provide insight into determining which breast cancer tumours are more likely spread to other parts of the body and which ones won’t.
  • Using this software and human tumour tissue sample genetic data from The Cancer Genome Atlas, the research team pinpointed that mutations in the Neural Cell Adhesion Molecule (NCAM) and other related genes in NCAM biology were present at a much higher rate in tumours which had metastasized to the lymph nodes than those that did not.
  • NCAM, typically found in neural cells is also highly expressed in breast tissue, and is involved in communication between cells.
  • “One of the big issues in breast oncology is that women are sometimes treated with chemotherapy even if their tumour isn’t going to metastasize.  The ideal situation would be to be able to identify those patients where the side-effects and potential negative consequences of chemotherapy following surgery can be avoided or at least, minimized.”

For more information:  Scientific Reports 4, Article number:7063 doi:10. 1038/srep07063, Splicing mutation analysis reveals previously unrecognized pathways in lymph node-invasive breast cancer


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