A genetic function behind breast cancer cells' ability to survive and spread to the bone years after treatment has been administered has been identified by scientists.
Led by investigators at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), the study comes as scientists are looking for therapies to target this survival capacity and force the death of latent breast cancer cells before they get a chance to metastasize, or spread - a problem that accounts for a majority of breast cancer-related deaths.
The researchers used gene-expression profiling techniques, and found that breast cancer cells that infiltrate the bone marrow could survive over time, if they contained the gene product Src.
By genetically disabling Src activity in human breast cancer cells, it was possible to inhibit these cells from surviving in the bone marrow and forming metastases in mice.
The researchers also saw that treatment with the drug dasatinib inhibits the formation of bone metastasis by human breast cancer cells inoculated into mice.
"Our results should encourage oncologists to consider the study of Src inhibitors to attack reservoirs of disseminated, latent cancer cells and prevent metastasis in breast cancer patients after their tumour has been removed," said the study's senior author, Dr. Joan Massague.
The research has been published in the journal Cancer Cell.