A team of researchers led by Goutham Narla, MD, PhD, at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and University Hospitals Case Medical Center, and collaborators at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Erasmus Medical Center, have discovered a gene variant that drives the spread of breast cancer. Published in Scientific Translational Medicine (embargoed Jan. 23 at 2:00 pm ET), the study lays the early foundation for predicting which breast cancer patients may develop more aggressive disease and for designing more effective treatments.
"Breast cancer is a genetically complex disease and it remains a challenge to predict disease outcomes and which patients may benefit from more aggressive treatment," says Dr. Narla, assistant professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and medical geneticist at UH Case Medical Center Seidman Cancer Center. "Our research has uncovered a promising gene marker that will not only help us better identify tumors that behave badly but provide a basis for developing and 'personalizing' therapies to better treat our patients."
The research team discovered that a mutant gene, KLF6-SV1, was linked to the recurrence and metastasis in women with breast cancer. The incorrect splicing of the KLF6 gene essentially creates a protein that causes cancer cells to spread or metastasize. The researchers examined the tumors of 671 breast cancer patients in a tumor bank at Erasmus University Medical Center (Rotterdam, The Netherlands) and found that those whose tumors expressed high levels of the gene variant were 50 percent more likely to die. Since recurrence and metastasis are the major causes of death in breast cancer, this finding will provide a new direction of research to both identify women at risk and to develop targeted drugs that block the process of metastasis.
"This study presents biological proof that this splice variant can potentially be a marker for determining which early stage breast cancer patients will have disease progression," adds Dr. Narla. "More studies need to be done, but this could provide an important prognostic marker to determine which patients need to be treated more aggressively or watched more closely."
Dr. Narla came to UH Case Medical Center and Case Western Reserve in spring, 2012, from Mt. Sinai and is the first Harrington Distinguished Scholar (Early Career Award). This inaugural award provides physician-scientists with the ability to tap into grant funding and a peer network of innovators and mentors within the infrastructure of the Harrington Discovery Institute at UH Case Medical Center. The Institute is part of the $250 million Harrington Project for Discovery & Development, which was launched in February, 2012, with a $50 million gift to UH from the Harrington family of Hudson, OH.