A new study links deficiency in a gene that control autophagy with triple-negative breast cancer.
Autophagy is a process that recycles cell waste.
Researchers believe that increasing activity of the gene could be an effective way to treat patient with this aggressive and stubborn cancer.
Triple-negative breast cancer is when the cancer cells are low in three types of receptor: estrogen, progesterone and human growth factor receptor 2 (HER2). Triple-negative breast cancer accounts for 10-20% of breast cancers. It is considered the most aggressive cancer and often resists chemotherapy, the standard treatment.
The study was reported in the journal EBioMedicine. Researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center carried out the research. Funding for the study came from the National Institutes of Health and the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.
Researchers analyzed data from over 3,000 patients in two large breast cancer databases: the Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) and the Molecular Taxonomy of Breast Cancer International Consortium (METABRIC).
The study found that reduced activity of beclin 1 was linked to both a higher rate of triple-negative breast cancer and a poorer prognosis for breast cancer patients.
This is the first study to report a link between beclin 1 and triple-negative breast cancer in humans. However, it does confirm similar findings from mouse studies.
The study also found that beclin 1 is linked to worse outcomes. Breast cancer patients with low beclin 1 expression levels have a 67% higher risk of succumbing to the disease compared with patients with high levels.
Researchers believe that therapies which increase beclin 1 activity in breast cancer may be beneficial and could be a potential new pathway to target.
Beclin 1 is already a target of four classes of drugs approved to treat other types of cancer. Researchers urge that more research should be done to see whether these drugs could also save lives of breast cancer patients.