An aggressive form of breast cancer could be tackled after scientists discovered a cell that encourages its growth.
A gene known as C35 spreads cancerous cells in patients with HER2-positive breast cancer, researchers in Edinburgh found.
Around 9,000 women across the country are affected by this type of cancer – where the increase of cancer cells are encouraged by the HER2 protein.
HER2-positive breast cancer also represents around 20% of all breast cancer cases.
Current treatment involves the drug Herceptin, which attaches itself to the protein and prevents cancer cells growing and multiplying.
By identifying the gene that causes cells to spread – and developing drugs to disable it – a team at the University of Edinburgh believes it has found a new way of halting the disease.
Research leader Dr Elad Katz, of the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Unit, said: “HER2-positive cancers are a group of cancers that are known to be aggressive in that they grow quicker and spread quicker.
“For a long time we have been concentrating on the protein HER2 but now we have this gene that could well be responsible for the spread of the cancer.
“We are at an early stage but there is now a real possibility there could be a new treatment for women with HER2-positive breast cancer.”
The research is published online in the British Journal of Cancer.
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