New hope for taming triple-negative breast cancer

October 2, 2012
Manjeet Rao, Ph.D., is assistant professor of cellular and structural biology in the School of Medicine and a principal investigator at the Greehey Children's Cancer Research Institute of The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio. His team identified microRNA molecules that can uniquely sensitize drug-resistant, triple-negative breast cancer to chemotherapy drugs such as paclitaxel. Credit: The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio

Disease-free survival is short-lived for women with triple-negative breast cancer—a form of the disease that doesn't respond to hormone drugs and becomes resistant to chemotherapy. Thankfully, a promising line of study in the School of Medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio suggests it is possible to fine-tune the properties of this fearsome cancer, making it more sensitive to treatment.

Once have been completed in coming months, this new approach should be ready to test in female patients, a scientist said.

Naturally occurring molecules

The research focuses on molecules called microRNAs that occur naturally throughout the body. These molecules play an important role during development and in disease processes. "Some microRNAs suppress while others promote it," said Behyar Zoghi, M.D., Ph.D., hematology- fellow in the School of Medicine and first author of a study presented at the recent American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting in San Francisco.

"We identified microRNAs that can uniquely sensitize drug-resistant, triple-negative to chemotherapy drugs such as ," said senior author Manjeet Rao, Ph.D., assistant professor of cellular and and a principal investigator at the Greehey Children's Cancer Research Institute of the UT Health Science Center. The institute's researchers pursue novel understandings about biology that will apply to both pediatric and adult cancers.

Tumors sensitized; lower dose needed

In preclinical studies, the team injected microRNA into mice with established tumors. "The microRNA not only killed the cancer and didn't let it come back, but was also safe based on toxicity studies of the liver and other tissues," Dr. Rao said.

The microRNA, delivered along with chemo, conditions the tumor so that it responds to a much lower dose of the drug and many side effects are prevented.

Detectable in blood serum

"MicroRNAs are very stable and small in size, so theoretically we don't need a very complex delivery vehicle," Dr. Rao said. "Importantly, the microRNAs that we studied can be very good prognostic markers, as they are detected in blood serum and expressed at significantly different levels in patients when compared with healthy individuals."

He expects the preclinical work to soon be translated to a first-in-humans Phase I clinical trial at the Cancer Therapy & Research Center (CTRC) at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio. The CTRC is one of four National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Centers in Texas.

Explore further: Researchers discover a DNA marker may indicate differences in breast cancer

Related Stories

Researchers discover a DNA marker may indicate differences in breast cancer

June 2, 2012
Researchers and doctors at the North Shore-LIJ Health System and the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research have discovered a potential explanation for why breast cancer is not experienced the same way with African American ...

SABCS: Loss of RB in triple negative breast cancer associated with favorable clinical outcome

December 9, 2011
Researchers at the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson have shown that loss of the retinoblastoma tumor suppressor gene (RB) in triple negative breast cancer patients is associated with ...

Small molecules shed light on cancer therapies

August 22, 2011
Patients suffering from an aggressive brain cancer will benefit from the results of a University of Illinois study that could advance the development of targeted gene therapies and improve prognosis.

MicroRNA controls malignancy and resistance of breast cancer cells

May 4, 2012
Many breast cancer patients are treated with a drug called tamoxifen. The substance blocks the effect of estrogen and thus suppresses the growth signals of this hormone in cancer cells. When resistance to the drug develops, ...

Recommended for you

Anti-cancer chemotherapeutic agent inhibits glioblastoma growth and radiation resistance

July 24, 2017
Glioblastoma is a primary brain tumor with dismal survival rates, even after treatment with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. A small subpopulation of tumor cells—glioma stem cells—is responsible for glioblastoma's ...

New therapeutic approach for difficult-to-treat subtype of ovarian cancer identified

July 24, 2017
A potential new therapeutic strategy for a difficult-to-treat form of ovarian cancer has been discovered by Wistar scientists. The findings were published online in Nature Cell Biology.

Immune cells the missing ingredient in new bladder cancer treatment

July 24, 2017
New research offers a possible explanation for why a new type of cancer treatment hasn't been working as expected against bladder cancer.

Shooting the achilles heel of nervous system cancers

July 20, 2017
Virtually all cancer treatments used today also damage normal cells, causing the toxic side effects associated with cancer treatment. A cooperative research team led by researchers at Dartmouth's Norris Cotton Cancer Center ...

Molecular changes with age in normal breast tissue are linked to cancer-related changes

July 20, 2017
Several known factors are associated with a higher risk of breast cancer including increasing age, being overweight after menopause, alcohol intake, and family history. However, the underlying biologic mechanisms through ...

Immune-cell numbers predict response to combination immunotherapy in melanoma

July 20, 2017
Whether a melanoma patient will better respond to a single immunotherapy drug or two in combination depends on the abundance of certain white blood cells within their tumors, according to a new study conducted by UC San Francisco ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.