Origins of Deadliest Breast Cancer Identified at Duke

Armen Hareyan's picture

Basal Type Breast Cancer

Scientists have discovered that loss of a critical protein in breast cells can initiate a particularly aggressive and often fatal form of cancer called "basal type" breast cancer.

They said their discovery is important for identifying women at increased risk for basal-type breast cancer and for developing new drugs that more effectively target this treatment-resistant cancer. Early detection is particularly important because the disease strikes young women of child-bearing age and typically resists chemotherapy and other front-line drugs, said the researchers from the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center.


The Duke scientists found that basal-type breast cells which lose expression of the CREB-binding protein (CBP) are unable to engage in programmed cell death or "apoptosis," so the cells over-proliferate. Apoptosis is a critical defense mechanism that cells use to commit suicide when they become irreparably damaged or are no longer needed by the body.

Results of the study are published in the Nov. 1, 2005, issue of the Journal of Cell Science. The research was sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, the V-Foundation, the Avon Foundation, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and the Charlotte Geyer Foundation.

"There hasn't been a good model of basal-type breast cancer, so we haven't understood how this type of cancer starts and thus how to prevent or eradicate it," said Victoria Seewaldt, M.D., director of the Breast Health Clinic at Duke and senior author of the study. "Our discovery provides a critical clue as to how basal-type breast cancer might start, and this knowledge gives us the power to detect early changes that lead to this type of breast cancer."

Seewalt's study is an integral part of her teams' effort to develop better ways to detect early changes in the breast that give rise to cancer. It is critical to determine which of the many changes in breast cells