Three key breast cancer genes have been identified by British scientists in a breakthrough likened to finding gold in Trafalgar Square.
The discovery could save thousands of lives a year by providing researchers with the inspiration they need to come up with vital new treatments for the most common form of the disease.
AdvertisementExcitingly, and despite the preliminary nature of the research, the first new drugs could be available in as little as five years.
The potential implications of the genes - and the surprising place in which they were found - has led the researchers to liken their discovery to stumbling across a chest of gold on the well-trodden paving slabs of Trafalgar Square.
During the five-year study, the researchers studied the DNA of 104 breast cancer patients, including many Britons.
All of the women studied had something known as oestrogen receptor-positive breast cancer, which accounts for four in five of all breast tumours and is also to blame for the bulk of the 12,000 lives lost to the disease a year.
It got its name because oestrogen "feeds" and fuels the tumour by latching onto proteins on the surface of cancer cells known as receptors.he researchers, from the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre at the Institute of Cancer Research in London, were stunned to find the DNA near it harboured three previously unknown genes.
"We found the genes in a place we thought we knew a lot about - it is like finding gold in Trafalgar Square," the Daily Mail quoted Dr Anita Dunbier, the study's author, as saying.
"It seemed too obvious to be true. We had to check things very thoroughly to make sure it wasn't just a false discovery.
"We now have to look further at how these genes work but the discovery could lead to possible new therapies that will benefit women with breast cancer in the near future," added Dunbier.
Scientists have now found three new genes that operate outside the oestrogen receptor and so are unaffected by the drug.
New drugs that target these genes - named C6ORF96, C6ORF97 and C6ORF211 - will now be developed that could potentially save the lives of thousands for whom current treatments have failed.
The study is detailed in the journal PLoS Genetics.