Scientists from the Wyss Institute of Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University have discovered a new breast cancer treatment that partially reverses the cancerous state in cultured breast tumor cells and prevents cancer development in mice. The findings of the study were published in Science Translational Medicine.
The therapy emerged from a sophisticated effort to reverse-engineer gene networks to identify genes that drive cancer. The same strategy could lead to many new therapies that disable cancer-causing genes no current drugs can stop, and it also can be used to find therapies for other diseases.
"The findings open up the possibility of someday treating patients who have a genetic propensity for cancer, which could change people's lives and alleviate great anxiety," said Don Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., Wyss Institute Founding Director. "The idea would be start giving it early on and sustain treatment throughout life to prevent cancer development or progression." Ingber is also the Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology at Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and Professor of Bioengineering at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
Between breast self-exams, mammograms, MRIs, and genetic tests, more women than ever are undergoing early tests that reveal precancerous breast tissue. That early diagnosis could potentially save lives; however, few of those lesions go on to become tumors and doctors have no good way of predicting which ones will. As a result, many women currently undergo surgery, chemotherapy and radiation who might never develop the disease. What's more, some women with a high hereditary risk of breast cancer have chosen to undergo preemptive mastectomies.
A therapy that heals rather than kills cancerous tissue could potentially help all these patients, as well as men who develop the disease. But to date the only way to stop cancer cells has been to kill them. Unfortunately, the treatments that accomplish that, including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, often damage healthy tissue, causing harsh side effects.