Atlanta Falcons Cheerleaders Wearing Pink For Breast Cancer Awareness
Breakthrough discovery made in the treatment of breast cancer by Australian researchers. REUTERS/Tami Chappell

Scientists have discovered a new breast cancer gene that causes triple negative breast cancer, which is about 10 to 20 per cent of breast cancer occurrences in the world.

The Cambridge, United Kingdom-based researchers found that the gene, BCL11A, drives the development of triple negative breast cancer, which is called so because women suffering from it lack the receptors found on the cells of the other three types of breast cancer. Drugs such as Tamoxifen and Herceptin, which work against the other types, have no effect on triple negative cancer tumors.

One-fifth of people suffering from cancer have triple negative breast cancer. This cancer spreads to other parts of the body more easily than the other forms of breast cancer. Survival depends on chemotherapy and surgery.

The gene was found in an analysis of 3,000 people suffering from cancer. The researchers believe it is the key to finding a long-sought targeted treatment for this particular form of cancer. The study discovered a higher degree of gene BCL11A activity in about 80 per cent of the patients suffering from particularly acute cancers. In those cases where extra copies of the gene were found in the tumors, survival rates were especially low. The studies also found that when BCL11A genes were added to human or mouse brease cells, they became cancerous. Further, when the activity of BCL11A was reduced in samples of human triple negative breast cancer cells, these cells lost some of the characteristics of cancer cells. Thus, a direct correlation was found between BCL11A activity and cancer like behaviour in cells. In further studies, it was found that when the BCL11A genes in mice was inactivated, tumour growth in the mammary gland was stalled. Mice that did not have this gene inactivated developed tumours.

The gene BCL11A is important for the development of normal breast stem cells and progenitor cells. Past studies have pointed out that mutation in these cells may cause cancers.

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