Gene 'encyclopaedia' aids development of breast cancer therapies

In collaboration with the Press Association

UK scientists have compiled an encyclopaedia of genes associated with different types of breast cancer in the hope that it will help in the development of specifically targeted treatments.

Experts from the Institute of Cancer Research's Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre used a lab technique called high-throughput RNA interference screening to identify genetic faults that drive the various forms of breast cancer.

Tumour cells contain a large number of genetic alterations. In the past, researchers have had problems designing targeted drug therapies as it can be difficult to determine which faults fuel cancer tumour progression and which are coincidental.

The research, published online in the American Association of Cancer Research journal Cancer Discovery, can now be used by scientists around the world to develop drugs that will target the faulty genes most associated with breast cancer.

Study author Dr Chris Lord, from the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre at the ICR in London, said: "This could have huge ramifications in the fight against cancer. Creating an encyclopaedia of breast cancer allows us to gain the big picture of the disease. It gives us a clear sight of the chinks in breast cancer cells' armour. We have made this data freely available to all because we know it is only through working together that we will defeat this disease."

The research has already led towards early stage clinical trials of a new class of drugs - TTK inhibitors - to treat breast cancer patients who lack a functioning PTEN gene, important in halting the development of tumours.

This was only possible because the researchers identified a link between the gene TTK and the breast cancer subset.

Dr Kat Arney, science information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: "At its heart, cancer is a disease caused by gene faults, whether these are inherited or occur as a result of damage accumulated over a lifetime. This study - the first of its kind - will take us significantly closer towards understanding more about the faulty genes that drive breast cancer and help shape the treatments of tomorrow."

Copyright Press Association 2011