Key breast cancer 'driver' gene found

Gene research The researchers carried out gene research

Related Stories

Cancer experts have identified a gene which can cause a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer to develop.

ZNF703 is the first "oncogene" to be discovered in five years.

It is overactive in around one in 12 breast cancers, and could account for up to 4,000 UK cases a year.

Cancer Research UK, whose scientists carried out the work, said the gene was a "prime candidate" for the development of new breast cancer drugs.

An oncogene is one which would normally help instruct healthy cells to divide but if it becomes overactive, it upsets the normal checks and balances that control that process.

That damage is described as being "like a car's accelerator becoming stuck down", and the cell and all its daughter cells are permanently instructed to divide.

Her2 - another oncogene - is already tested for. The drug Herceptin was developed to treat Her2 positive breast cancers.

Elimination

Scientists at Cancer Research UK's Cambridge Research Institute and the British Columbia Cancer Agency in Vancouver, Canada carried out the study, which is published in EMBO Molecular Medicine,

They looked at gene activity in 1,172 breast tumour samples, as well as looking at breast cancer cells grown in the lab.

Start Quote

This is the first gene of its kind to be discovered in breast cancer for five years”

End Quote Dr Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK

They were able to eliminate genes until there was only the ZNF703 gene left within a region on chromosome 8 that was overactive in all the samples tested.

And in two patients studied, ZNF703 was the only gene shown to be overactive, showing it was driving the development of the cancer.

Professor Carlos Caldas, of the Cambridge Research Institute, who led the research, said: "Scientists first discovered this region of DNA may be harbouring genes linked to the development of breast cancer 20 years ago.

"But it's only with the technology we have today that we've been able to narrow down the search sufficiently to pinpoint the gene responsible."

He added: "Crucially, testing whether this gene is overactive in a patient's tumour could help highlight those more likely to be resistant to standard hormone therapies, helping to make sure the right drugs are matched to the right patient."

Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said: "This is the first gene of its kind to be discovered in breast cancer for five years.

"This is exciting because it's a prime candidate for the development of new breast cancer drugs designed specifically to target tumours in which this gene is overactive.

"Hopefully this will lead to more effective cancer treatments in the future."

Dr Rachel Greig, of Breakthrough Breast Cancer said the research was "a vital step in understanding the genes that drive the growth of some types of breast cancer".

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Health stories

RSS

Features

  • Cesc FabregasFair price?

    Have some football clubs overpaid for their new players?


  • Woman and hairdryerBlow back

    Would banning high-power appliances actually save energy?


  • Members of staff at James Stevenson Flags hold a Union Jack and Saltire flag UK minus Scotland

    Does the rest of the UK care if the Scots become independent?


  • Women doing ice bucket challengeChill factor

    How much has the Ice Bucket Challenge achieved?


  • Women in front of Windows XP posterUpgrade angst

    Readers share their experiences of replacing their operating system


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.