Breast Cancer Stem Cell Research
Is there a link between BRCA1 mutations and cancer stem cells?
BRCA1 is a tumor suppressor gene known to be strongly linked to breast cancer. Mutations in this gene increase the risk of developing aggressive
breast and ovarian cancer. Mutant forms of BRCA1 account for about 5% to 10% of cases of hereditary breast cancer. U-M Cancer Center scientists
have discovered that BRCA1 regulates self-renewal of cancer stem cells. When the gene is mutated, cancer stem cells multiply abnormally,
increasing the risk of cancer.
Are new treatments targeted at cancer stem cells being tested in U-M clinical trials?In 2006, Cancer Center investigators began the world's first clinical trial of a treatment targeted at breast cancer stem cells. The study was designed to test the safety and tolerability of a new drug in 35 women with advanced, metastatic breast cancer that did not respond to traditional therapy. The experimental drug called MK-0752 blocks a signaling pathway involved in stem cell growth and development. Patients received the experimental drug in combination with chemotherapy. Researchers believe using a two-drug combination - one to kill cancer stem cells and one to kill the other cells in the tumor - will prove to be the best strategy.
Initial results from the trial were presented in December 2010 at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. Most patients enrolled in the study tolerated the side effects of the treatment. An examination of biopsies showed that the number of cancer stem cells in the tumor decreased after treatment. The pharmaceutical company that owns the experimental drug is determining whether to proceed with additional clinical trials.
Cancer Center researchers are planning more clinical trials of stem cell-based therapies for breast cancer.
How can I learn about clinical trials?Information about is available on the Find a Clinical Trial web page. You can also call the Cancer AnswerLine™ at 800-865-1125.