Receiving a confirmed breast cancer diagnosis is difficult, and discovering an aggressive form of this disease can be utterly devastating. But new research just published in Cell may provide some hope for those diagnosed with aggressive forms of breast cancer. The researchers identified a particular gene, called ZEB1, with the power to convert non-cancer stem cells into cancer stem cells, and thus ultimately influence whether a breast cancer will exhibit as a benign form or as an aggressive and rapidly spreading form. This discovery has major implications on the future of breast cancer treatment, allowing brand new options to begin to be devised for patients fighting this devastating disease.
There are various categories of breast cancer, differing according to their molecular structure. Less aggressive types of breast cancer are grouped into the luminal category, while more aggressive types are categorized into the basal category. Patients that are diagnosed with a luminal type of breast cancer have a better prognosis than those diagnosed with a basal type of the disease. Aggressive basal types of breast cancer often metastasize, spreading and creating tumors in other areas of the body. This may be due to the fact that non-cancer stems cells from basal type breast cancer are able to turn into cancer stem cells relatively easily, while those from luminal types of breast cancer usually stay in a non-cancer stem cell state.
Genes that control the expression of other genes are known as transcriptor factors. Therefore, they have a significant role in various cell activities. ZEB1 is one type of transcriptor factor, responsible for transitioning certain types of cells into other forms. The researchers found that the ZEB1 gene is found in a poised state in basal non-cancer stem cells, which means that they are ready to respond to environmental cues that would put them into action. Essentially, the ZEB1 gene converts non-cancer stem cells into cancer stem cells. This may be the basis that determines whether breast cancer cells will exhibit benign or aggressive behavior in the future. The researchers discovered that the ZEB1 gene acts differently in luminal and basal breast cancer cells. In luminal breast cancer cells, the ZEB1 gene is basically shut down whereas, in basal breast cancer cells, the ZEB1 gene is more active, allowing for easier conversion of non-cancer stem cells into cancer stem cells.
The results from the current research suggest that breast cancer cells are very adaptable. Treatment options for breast cancer should look at targeting cancer stem cells and preventing non-cancer stem cells from transitioning into cancer stem cells. One way in which this may be accomplished is by discovering new treatment options that inhibit the adaptability of breast cancer cells. This may help to control the spread of cancer throughout the body, resulting in a better prognosis.
The recent research brings hope to the future prevention and treatment of breast cancer. The fact that a specific gene has been identified as the gene responsible for the aggressive nature of certain breast cancers will allow scientists to study new treatment options for this devastating disease. Additionally, researchers can investigate whether the ZEB1 gene reacts that same way in other forms of cancer, which could possibly change the future of cancer treatment.