New Research Uncovers How Cancer Stem Cells Drive Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

From Drug Discovery Today - March 12, 2018

A team of researchers in the United States has identified a new stem cell pathway that allows a highly aggressive form of breast cancertriple-negative breast cancerto thrive, with their findings potentially pointing the way towards new, more effective treatments in cases where hormone therapy has proved unsuccessful.

Hormone therapy for breast cancer blocks cancer cells from interacting with hormones such as estrogen and progesterone, which fuel the cancer cells to grow and spread. However, triple-negative breast cancer cells lack the receptors needed to bind to these hormones and growth factors. Without such receptors, typical therapy does not work, contributing to poor survival rates for women with this subtype of breast cancer.

Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute believe that an aggressive population of cancer cells, called cancer stem cells, is at the heart of why many cancers, including triple-negative breast cancer, are challenging to treat. Cancer stem cells self-replicate, rapidly grow and spread, and change their phenotype in response to the tumor environment.

In findings published in Nature Communications, the new study led by Justin Lathia, Ph.D., and Ofer Reizes, Ph.D. identifies a never-before described survival pathway in cancer stem cells that may serve as a potential target for new triple-negative breast cancer therapies.

Triple-negative breast cancer is resistant to treatment and has a high recurrence rate, Reizes said. This aggressive subtype accounts for about 15-20 percent of breast cancers. Our findings are at an early stage but we are hopeful that targeting these cancer stem cells will lead to new treatments to allow women to be treated successfully and improve their outcomes.

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