New immuno-assay can spot breast cancer mutation carriers

A few genes released by human breast cancer cells are potentially shedding light on genetic differences between the disease and healthy organs according to researchers at Duke-NUS Medical School.

The discovery was made through a large collaborative effort. It can lead to a more refined screening test to detect those breast cancer cells with genetic differences from healthy individuals.

Senior author Associate Professor Renee Lee explained We found that if the changes we observed were due to DNA mutations genes which were found to be mutated in any breast cancer samples would not correlate with patients cancer a finding which would miss a large number of breast cancer patients many of whom are unaware of their tumours and might also be over-represented in invasive biopsies. This would greatly impact the search for new therapeutic approaches.

Dr. Greg Austin Senior Vice Dean for Research at Duke-NUS said Our ability to screen for changes to the human genome in breast cancer will benefit a broad range of patients including women who are being screened for ovarian cancer prostate cancers bladder cancers and blood cancers such as non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Our findings also suggest that BLASH which is an alternative approach to DNA detection in breast cancer that would screen for genomic abnormalities in a more refined way may be useful and we are encouraged by the early results of this promising study.

The team found immune system differences in cancer cells particularly the presence of genes involving abundant levels of multiple gene promoters. They concluded that BLASH will be useful as a framework as it is simple inexpensive and allows for using more post-translational DNA analysis.

The challenge to detect genes that are initially thought to be unrelated to cancer and who probably are false positives is that detection depends not only on DNA sequence analysis but also on a cursory look at gene expression levels across other cell types. Our study provides a simpler less time-consuming way to screen for differences between breast cancer cells said co-lead researcher and Associate Professor Lee.

Professor Rio Barreira Chairman and Director of the Genomics Institute Duke NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine and Vice Dean for Research said Although genetic testing methodologies are rapidly improving it has been challenging to offer personalized and reliable clinical medicine to large research cohorts. This study challenges the assumption that it is possible to screen for coding genes in breast cancer cells-that is genes that have been linked to a cancer but whose expression was not measured using a PCR test in the patients sample.