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New biomarker, therapeutic target for breast cancer identified

Decreasing the amount of the molecule in cancer cells slowed their growth and prevented them from spreading.

By Stephen Feller
The discovery of a molecule that tips off doctors to the presence of BLBC could lead to new treatments that slow or stop the growth of its tumors. Photo by www.royaltystockphoto.com/Shutterstock
The discovery of a molecule that tips off doctors to the presence of BLBC could lead to new treatments that slow or stop the growth of its tumors. Photo by www.royaltystockphoto.com/Shutterstock

BOSTON, July 31 (UPI) -- Researchers have discovered a molecule present in basal-like breast cancer, or BLBC, tumors that allows them to be detected, and when its presence was reduced in cancer cell models the tumors' growth was slowed significantly.

BLBC is an aggressive form of breast cancer that does not respond to the most common cancer treatments and has a tendency to spread earlier and faster than other forms of cancer.

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"This discovery offers a glimmer of hope for patients stricken with BLBC. Personalized cancer therapies could be developed by targeting breast cancer cells that express copious levels of IL13RA2," said Dr. Sam Thiagalingam, an associate professor Boston University School of Medicine, in a press release.

Researchers compared markers on cancer cells to gene expression profiles available in public information databases, discovering the molecule interleukin-13 receptor alpha 2, or IL13Ralpha2, is often present in large quantities in metastatic or late-stage BLBC. Further research showed levels of the molecule indicated the chances of the cancer spreading.

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They found that when the presence of IL13Ralpha2 was decreased in cancer cells and inserted into tumors, the tumors grew more slowly. Models with the same altered cells also had nearly no metastasis to the lungs, which researchers said could indicate the molecule is also involved in the spread of cancer.

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More research will be needed to understand how the molecule works and if it can be harnessed for therapeutic treatments. "Studies directed at this biomarker will be of high significance to improve the quality of life of all cancer patients harboring this alteration," said Thiagalingam.

The study is published in Breast Cancer Research.

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