Gene implicated in spread of HER2 positive breast cancer cells in lab

In collaboration with Adfero

UK scientists have discovered that a gene called C35 can work together with other cancer-promoting genes to drive the growth and invasion of breast cancer cells in the lab.

About one in five breast cancer cases are HER2 positive, where the tumour cells have a large number of HER2 protein receptors on their surface.

The disease can be treated with trastuzumab (brand name Herceptin) but the drug is not always effective and some women stop benefiting from it after time.

Scientists at the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Unit at the University of Edinburgh have now discovered that the C35 gene becomes overactive in HER2 positive tumours.

Encouragingly, drugs are already being developed that disable a protein associated with C35 and stop it from working.

The latest study, which is published in the British Journal of Cancer, suggests that drugs targeting this gene's action could be effective for some patients with HER2 positive breast cancer.

Lead researcher Dr Elad Katz, from the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Unit, commented: "With all cancers, the key is working out how they form and spread. Identifying this gene's key role in the spread of this type of breast cancer is a significant finding.

"We are at an early stage, but there is now a real possibility there could be a new treatment for women with HER2 positive breast cancer."

Professor David Harrison, director of the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Unit at the University of Edinburgh, added: "It is exciting to know there is a drug out there which could potentially stop this process happening and save the lives of women with breast cancer.

"We now need to do more work in the lab to prove this concept before we can start patient trials."

Dr Joanna Owens, science information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: "This research adds to our understanding of the biology of HER2-positive breast cancers and could provide new avenues to explore for treatment. But it's important to note that these studies are in cells in the lab and tissue samples. Further studies will be needed to say whether this gene has an important role in breast cancer spread."


  • Katz, E. et al (2010). A gene on the HER2 amplicon, C35, is an oncogene in breast cancer whose actions are prevented by inhibition of Syk British Journal of Cancer DOI: 10.1038/sj.bjc.6605763