Researchers trace timeline of tumor evolution in metastatic breast cancer patients

November 28, 2017, University of Utah Health Sciences
Theresa Werner, MD, Medical Director of the Clinical Trials Office at Huntsman Cancer Institute and Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Utah. Credit: Huntsman Cancer Institute

A new study by researchers at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at the University of Utah observed how breast cancer tumors evolve over time and demonstrated how changes within tumors may contribute to the process by which cancers no longer respond to treatment. Further, the research identifies that some of these changes may be shared across certain treatment-resistant breast cancers. The study was published this month in Nature Communications.

Collecting tumor samples can be medically invasive and expensive and, as a result, samples are taken infrequently, like when the cancer is first diagnosed or at other key points in . Because frequent sampling isn't usually done, decisions as to what treatment to give can't be tailored to changes that may have occurred in the tumor over time.

Researchers set out to analyze why some breast cancers become resistant to treatment. "I think the million dollar question in cancer is what makes one patient's tumor respond differently than another patient's tumor," said Theresa Werner, MD, Medical Director of the Clinical Trials Office at HCI and Associate Professor of Medicine at University of Utah Health. The cells in tumors are not identical to one another. Instead, studies have shown that different cells can possess different genetic alterations and rely on different signaling pathways to survive, grow, and spread. As a result, they may respond differently to different drugs.

For this study, Werner and her collaborators were able to trace the timeline of treatment of four cancer patients, over the course of between two to fifteen years for the patients analyzed. In a unique collaboration between several researchers and medical oncologists, samples of cancerous tissues were collected from during their regular course of treatment. The tissue samples were then sequenced to study how the samples changed over time and how the tumors responded to each treatment. Using these data, the researchers were able to assess how changes in the tumor coincided with when the patient's stopped responding to treatment. In general, their analyses showed that treatment-resistant cells shared some common, important functional characteristics—known as their phenotype—explains the study's senior investigator, Andrea Bild, PhD, of the City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center in California.

The ultimate goal for the researchers is to understand what is happening in a patient's tumor in as close to real time as possible, to predict what will happen next, and to adjust treatment accordingly.

Two new set to start early next year at HCI and City of Hope will build on this research. Werner says "ultimately we want to actually predict what is really going to work best for your during the course of your disease. While we're not ready to apply this to standad patient treatment now, with this work we are one step closer to doing that."

Explore further: Researchers advocate for single-cell diagnostics for breast cancer

More information: Samuel W. Brady et al. Combating subclonal evolution of resistant cancer phenotypes, Nature Communications (2017). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-01174-3

Related Stories

Researchers advocate for single-cell diagnostics for breast cancer

October 24, 2017
Women diagnosed with breast cancer may benefit from having the molecular subtype of different cells within their tumors identified, argue two researchers in an opinion article published October 24 in the journal Trends in ...

New study shows targeted therapy needed for breast cancer with brain metastases

December 7, 2016
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) and Magee-Womens Research Institute (MWRI) have discovered molecular changes in the primary tumor of breast cancer patients who developed brain metastases. ...

Dogs help in breast carcinoma research

June 6, 2017
Cancer of the mammary glands in dogs is very similar to human breast carcinoma. For this reason, treatment methods from human medicine are often used for dogs. Conversely, scientific knowledge gained from canine mammary tumors ...

Researchers find chemoresistance in breast cancer is related to varying tumor cell populations

April 27, 2017
Researchers from the transformation and metastasis group of the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL), led by Dr. Eva González-Suárez, have recreated and characterized the development of resistance to chemotherapy ...

Genetic alterations in treatment-resistant metastatic breast cancer found to be distinct from those in primary tumors

December 9, 2016
Drug-resistant, estrogen-fueled breast cancers that have spread beyond their initial site often have different genetic alterations than the original tumors, according to a large-scale tumor-tissue analysis led by Dana-Farber ...

Enhanced luminal breast tumor response to antiestrogen therapy

September 3, 2013
Breast cancer can be divided into 4 major subtypes using molecular and genetic information from the tumors. Each subtype is associated with different prognosis and should be taken into consideration when making treatment ...

Recommended for you

Similarities found in cancer initiation in kidney, liver, stomach, pancreas

February 21, 2018
Recent research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis demonstrated that mature cells in the stomach sometimes revert back to behaving like rapidly dividing stem cells. Now, the researchers have found that ...

Genes activated in metastasis also drive the first stages of tumour growth

February 21, 2018
In spite of the difference between the cell functions responsible for giving rise to a tumour and that give rise to metastasis, studies at IRB Barcelona using the fly Drosophila melanogaster reveal that some genes can drive ...

Researchers discover novel mechanism linking changes in mitochondria to cancer cell death

February 20, 2018
To stop the spread of cancer, cancer cells must die. Unfortunately, many types of cancer cells seem to use innate mechanisms that block cancer cell death, therefore allowing the cancer to metastasize. While seeking to further ...

Stem cell vaccine immunizes lab mice against multiple cancers

February 15, 2018
Stanford University researchers report that injecting mice with inactivated induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) launched a strong immune response against breast, lung, and skin cancers. The vaccine also prevented relapses ...

Induced pluripotent stem cells could serve as cancer vaccine, researchers say

February 15, 2018
Induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells, are a keystone of regenerative medicine. Outside the body, they can be coaxed to become many different types of cells and tissues that can help repair damage due to trauma or ...

Team paves the way to the use of immunotherapy to treat aggressive colon tumors

February 15, 2018
In a short space of time, immunotherapy against cancer cells has become a powerful approach to treat cancers such as melanoma and lung cancer. However, to date, most colon tumours appeared to be unresponsive to this kind ...

0 comments

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.