Research into a protein for treatment of cancer brings prestigious award

Although primarily known for its roles in obesity and reproduction, the protein leptin has been linked to breast cancer in a study which is the recipient of the prestigious Susan G. Komen Foundation award.

The Boston Biomedical Research Institute study targets a key protein in the uncontrolled production of breast cancer cells. This approach by the Institute's Dr. Ruben Rene Gonzalez focuses on leptin, which was shown to promote both the proliferation of cancer cells and the formation of new blood vessels necessary for cancer growth, a process known as angiogenesis.

"Because of leptin's active role in recruiting blood vessels for tumor growth, we theorized that blocking leptin's biological activity could be a novel approach to treating breast cancer," said Dr. Gonzalez.

To test this theory, the scientists designed non-toxic inhibitors of leptin 'signalling' -- or communication -- which they called leptin peptide antagonists, or LPAs. In their experiments, they found that the LPAs were able to block leptin-induced proliferation, adhesion and invasion of mammary cancer cells grown in tissue culture, and also in experimental mice.

"Our results showed that LPAs significantly reduced the number and size of mammary tumors in these mice, and also reduced the incidence of metastasis to the liver," said Dr. Gonzalez.

This study at Boston Biomedical represents the first time that a therapeutic agent targeting leptin signaling has been tested to treat breast cancer. The promising results were recognized by the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. The Foundation is a well-known national funder based in Dallas, Texas that is dedicated to eradicating breast cancer by advancing research, education, screening and treatment.

Dr. Gonzalez also presented his findings at the 2005 annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research held in Anaheim, California.

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