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Researchers find protein may be key in spread of invasive breast cancer

by Kaitlyn Zufall
Jan 29, 2013

Researchers have identified a protein that could be a potential therapeutic target in identifying and treating invasive breast cancer.

In the study released online Wednesday in the Science Translational Medicine, researchers report that the protein KLF6-SV1is a key driver of the metastasis, spreading of breast cancer.

“There’s fairly strong evidence that this is a driver of metastasis,” said principal investigator Dr. Goutham Narla, assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. “We have the clinical and the biological data and the two of those together make a fairly strong case.”

KLF6-SV1 is a mutant gene created when the tumor suppressor gene KLF6 is put together incorrectly. The protein promotes movement in cancer cells, leading to increased migration and invasion throughout the body.

Metastasis is a primary cause of death in breast cancer cases.

“Most people who die of cancer succumb to metastatic disease,” said Dr. William Small, professor of radiation oncology and associate medical director of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.

The link to metastasis was echoed in another part of the study where increased KLF6-SV1 expression was associated with shorter metastasis-free survival in a clinical study of 671 lymph-node negative breast cancer patients.

“It really seems to be a metastasis promoter,” Narla said.

He said there are two major next steps: to confirm the data and then use it to treat breast cancer. Though he said they “feel quite confident” in their results, the team needs to continue the research in larger studies.

Confirmation could potentially help doctors to treat breast cancer by identifying patients that need to be treated more aggressively from the beginning. And it would give researchers a target for new drugs and treatments, he said.

“We have compelling evidence that it drives metastasis,” Narla said. “Now we’ll determine ways to turn it off.”

However, Small cautioned that metastasis is a complicated process. Even if the protein is a good target, eliminating it would probably not stop metastasis entirely.

But he said that identification is a good first step.

“Any time we can identify these genes, we get closer to an outcome.”