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Scientists discover 'switch' for aggressive breast cancer cells

By
Ryan Maass
Levels of a specific enzyme determine a breast cancer tumor's behavior, scientists found. Photo by the U.S. National Institutes of Health
Levels of a specific enzyme determine a breast cancer tumor's behavior, scientists found. Photo by the U.S. National Institutes of Health

SINGAPORE, Nov. 1 (UPI) -- A research team from the National University of Singapore has identified a trigger that makes breast cancer cells more aggressive.

In a study published in the journal Antioxidants & Redox Signaling, scientists isolated the enzyme manganese superoxide dismutase, or MnSOD, as the culprit behind invasive behavior. The study's authors say the findings open opportunities for the potential development of new breast cancer treatments.

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MnSOD was found to have a central role in breast cancer cell aggression, including the formation of secondary tumors. The enzyme is especially active in triple negative breast cancer, an estrogen-independent subtype of breast cancer.

"Our study provides a novel mechanism for exploiting cancer's Achilles heel with potential implications for the design of target-specific therapies against aggressive breast cancer," NUS professor Shazib Pervaiz said in a press release.

During the study, the research team noted less aggressive tumors became more invasive when exposed to artificially elevated MnSOD protein levels. Following the experiment, investigators concluded the enzyme levels determine tumor behaviors. The discovery of this characteristic, they add, can be used to combat the disease.

"By suppressing MnSOD expression or its activity in triple negative breast cancer patients, we are able to make the tumor cells less aggressive and more sensitive to chemotherapy," study author Alan Prem Kumar explained.

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For follow-up research, the team hopes to design small molecules to target MnSOD and destroy cancer cells, reducing the invasive capabilities of tumors.

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