Scientists identify breast cancer mechanism

In collaboration with the Press Association

Scientists in the US may have identified the chemical signals that encourage some aggressive breast cancers to grow.

The team from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute found that defects in a gene called ErbB-2 in breast cancer cells often leads to increased levels of a protein called cyclin D1. This protein then activates another protein, called CDK4, which encourages the cells to divide.

Designing drugs to block the activity of CDK4, a type of protein known as a kinase, could lead to an effective treatment for some breast cancer patients.

"The development of cancer drugs like Gleevec and Iressa have shown that it is possible to block the action of kinases," said researcher Peter Sicinski.

"So we hope that these findings will stimulate interest in developing drugs to block CDK4 as a targeted approach to treating this very aggressive cancer." Henry Scowcroft, senior cancer information officer at Cancer Research UK, welcomed the results. "These results are exciting. They highlight the huge importance of studying the basic biology of cancer cells," he said. "Scientists now need to show that inhibiting CDK4 function can actually disrupt breast cancer growth, and then find a safe, reliable way of doing so in cancer patients who have been identified as suitable for this sort of therapy. But this may take many years to achieve."