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Discovery of a key gene involved in breast cancer

An abnormal NRG1 gene involved in half of breast cancers, and probably many other malignancies, such as colon, prostate, ovary or bladder.
An abnormal NRG1 gene involved in half of breast cancers, and probably many other malignancies, such as colon, prostate, ovary or bladder.
 

An abnormal NRG1 gene involved in half of breast cancers, and probably many other malignancies, such as colon, prostate, ovary or bladder. This gene has been found by British researchers from the University of Cambridge, who published their work in the journal Oncogene.

Comparing tumor cells from breast (taken from 63 women), Professor Paul Edwards and his team have found a very low or even zero level of the expression of a gene called NRG1 (neuregulin 1).

Researchers concluded: normally, the NRG1 gene is a potent tumor suppressor, protecting the body from the proliferation of abnormal cells. On the other hand, a lack of functioning or complete absence of the guardian of the genome integrity, acquired during life, particularly increases chances of cancer.

"I think that NRG1 could be the biggest discovery in decades of a tumor suppressor gene, because it gives us vital information on a new mechanism causing breast cancer," said Professor Edwards before the British press. He said there is no reason to believe that the key is not found in other tumors. For Arlene Wilkie, of the charity Breast Cancer Campaign, which helped to fund this work it is "a breakthrough" that could pave the way for "a multitude of new strategies to improve diagnosis and treatment" .

But some experts remain cautious: It's a great study, but there is still no definitive proof that a defect in the NRG1 gene is responsible for cancer. We'll have to check it on animal models first.

Researches know that the NRG1 encodes a protein associated with a growth factor, but the role of this gene is not completely understood.

For years, researchers and clinicians are searching for genetic and molecular markers of cancer, which would help to find a "signature of the tumor" that may predict prognosis and treatment.

But all the genes involved in breast tumors, which are very heterogeneous, are far from being understood fully. A team has identified 70 which are currently being studied in 6000 patients in Europe. Main objective is to find out whether all of these 70 genes can predict the aggressive growth of breast cancer better than the commonly used clinical and biological tests.

 
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