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Researchers Find Novel Way to Provide Vitamin D Therapy to Breast Cancer Patients

inflammatory breast cancer, vitamin d

Vitamin D is a critical nutrient for women who have breast cancer, yet the majority of them have low levels of the vitamin. Researchers with the University of Delaware have come up with a novel experimental approach for providing vitamin D, especially to women with inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), an especially deadly form of the disease.

Inflammatory breast cancer is an aggressive and fast-growing disease in which cancer cells infiltrate the skin and lymph vessels of the breast. It often produces no distinct tumor or lump that can be felt and isolated within the breast. Early IBC symptoms may include persistent itching and the appearance of a rash or small irritation similar to an insect bite. The breast typically becomes red, swollen, and warm. The skin may appear pitted like an orange peel and nipple changes such as inversion, flattening or dimpling may occur.

Inflammatory breast cancer accounts for 1 to 5% of all breast cancers diagnosed in the United States. Unfortunately, five-year survival rate is only 40%, compared to 87% for all other breast cancers.

Part of what makes treatment of inflammatory breast cancer so difficult is its multi-site growth pattern. Animal research has discovered an IBC cell line – SUM149 – which invades breast tissue and causes cancer cells to accumulate. Calcitriol, the active form of Vitamin D3, can inhibit the invasion and migration of SUM149 cells.

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However, delivering calcitriol to the needed area is difficult.

University of Delaware cancer researcher Anja Nohe researched cancer literature and made connections between cancer, vitamin D and the daylight regime of higher latitudes (she was living in Maine at the time and received funding from the Maine Cancer Foundation.) She and colleague Kenneth Van Golen, an expert in the biology of IBC, determined that calcitriol can be delivered therapeutically by quantum dots, an engineered light-emitting nanoscale delivery vehicle.

Using this approach, the calcitriol can fight on multiple fronts. Quantum dots can be used to rapidly move high concentrations of calcitriol to targeted tumor cites where the cancer cells accumulate and also through the lymph system where the cancer spreads.

"New IBC therapies are urgently needed, which is why the goal of my work is to find a successful treatment for inflammatory breast cancer, especially one with fewer side effects," Nohe says. Her research will be presented on Wednesday, February 6 at the 57th Annual Meeting of the Biophysical Society (BPS), being held in Philadelphia, Pa.

Presentation #2953-Pos, "Using calcitriol conjugated quantum dots to target inflammatory breast cancer tumors and metastasis in vivo," ABSTRACT

Additional Resources:
Michael R Hoffmeyer et al. In vitro analysis of the invasive phenotype of SUM 149, an inflammatory breast cancer cell line. Cancer Cell Int. 2005; 5: 11. Published online 2005 April 27. doi: 10.1186/1475-2867-5-11
National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc.
National Cancer Institute