Breast Cancer Campaign breaking research stories

Professor Dylan Edwards and Dr Sarah Porter at the University of East Anglia

A new family of genes could hold the key to winning the battle against breast cancer, according to new research at the University of East Anglia.

Cancer specialists at UEA have discovered that several ‘ADAMTS’ genes are turned off in breast cancer compared to normal breast tissue, while others are switched on. These genes could be targets for the development of ‘smart’ drugs tailored to treat individual patients’ tumours.

The ADAMTS genes are recent additions to a large family known as the metalloproteinases – many of which can break down tissues and have therefore been linked with tumour metastasis, or spread through the body. However, the ADAMTS group had not previously been linked to the development of breast cancer. These new findings suggest they could become robust ‘markers’, predicting disease outcome in breast cancer patients and identifying those patients most at risk of recurrence of the disease.

Funded by Breast Cancer Campaign, the innovative three-year study has been undertaken by Dr Sarah Porter and Professor Dylan Edwards of UEA’s School of Biological Sciences, using tissue samples from patients at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and a medical centre in Nijmegen, The Netherlands. The findings have been published in the International Journal of Cancer.

“We are beginning to understand how genes contribute to breast cancer development and I am confident this work will ultimately prove valuable for both diagnosis and treatment of the disease,” said Professor Edwards.

Pamela Goldberg, Breast Cancer Campaign, Chief Executive says, “The spread of breast cancer around the body is the single most important factor in breast cancer mortality. The findings of this research will play a major role in improving the future of breast cancer treatment which will focus on drug regimes tailored to the individual patient.”

Earlier published work by Dr Porter and Professor Edwards showed that eleven of the nineteen ADAMTS genes in humans are significantly altered as breast cancer develops. Their latest research now focuses on two of the genes, ADAMTS8 and ADAMTS15, and has shown that they can help to predict disease outcome in breast cancer patients.These new findings show that differing levels of activity of these genes means that patients can be grouped into one of four

These categories could be used to predict the likelihood of the breast cancer recurring. Those in the highest risk category are three times more likely to have a recurrence of breast cancer, and over five times more likely to die from the disease, than patients in the lowest risk category.
The UEA team hope that, in the future, clinicians will look at the levels of ADAMTS genes in a patient’s tumour and be able to prescribe the most effective therapy for treating the disease.

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