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Research Points Toward New Treatments for Dangerous Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

Cancer researchers

A Stony Brook-led team of researchers has identified a gene that could offer new hope for treating triple-negative breast cancer, the most aggressive subtype of the disease.

Led by Lori Chan, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Pharmacological Sciences in the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, the researchers have identified a specific gene involved in the cancer stem cell (CSC) population process of triple-negative breast cancer. By blocking this gene’s action, tumor response to chemotherapy is improved. Their findings, published in Cell Death & Disease, illustrate a potential new way to treat incurable triple-negative breast cancer.

Cancer researchers
Lori Chan, PhD, and her doctoral student, Jiabei He (seated), analyze slides that how triple-negative breast cancer tissue is affected when the action of the USP2 gene is blocked.

The challenge posed by triple-negative breast cancer is that the tissue making up this form of the disease harbors enriched CSC populations in tumors. Current chemotherapies to treat triple-negative breast cancer kill the cancer but spare much of the CSC populations, which trigger recurrence. 

“We identified a core molecular pathway that controls CSC activity and a key gene in that process called USP2,” Dr. Chan said. “USP2 is an essential gene that upregulates CSCs in triple-negative breast cancer. We used a genetic approach to block the action of USP2, and by doing that discovered this eliminates the CSC population and re-sensitizes the tumor response to chemotherapy.”

Therefore, by blocking this gene chemotherapy resistance is reduced, or eliminated, which potentially is a curative way to treat the disease, Dr. Chan emphasized. Unlike with other forms of breast cancer, hormonal or antibody therapies against triple-negative breast cancer are not effective when there is tumor recurrence.

Dr. Chan’s co-investigators include Jiabei He, a doctoral student in the Department of Pharmacological Sciences, other scientists from Pharmacological Sciences and the Stony Brook University Cancer Center, and researchers in the Department of Pathology and Cell Biology at Columbia University Medical Center.

The research is supported in part by grants from the National Institutes of Health (ROI CA211912), the New York State Department of Health (C31845GG), and the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and Carol M. Baldwin Breast Cancer Research Fund.

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  • How do we get more information about participating in clinical trials? Is there a more technical article I can share with my oncologist?

    • I pray you beat this disease. I just lost my mom to TNBC she was 1st diagnosed with it in 2017 then it came back Nov 2018. She passed away on 4/6/19.

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