SA scientists find breast cancer link

Emily CosenzaAAP
SA scientists have found that high levels of a protein causes breast cancer to grow more quickly.
Camera IconSA scientists have found that high levels of a protein causes breast cancer to grow more quickly.

South Australian scientists have found a ground-breaking link between an obscure protein and aggressive types of breast cancers that mostly affect younger women and have the worst survival rates.

Researchers from the University of South Australia discovered high levels of a protein, called Creld2, caused breast cancer to develop and grow more quickly.

A paper published in Nature Cell Biology on Tuesday, outlines how the aggressive cancers produce the protein, which takes control of healthy cells and advances tumour growth.

Senior researcher Associate Professor Michael Samuel said scientists had been aware of Creld2 for some time but it had not been well-studied.

"Until now we hadn't understood the role it plays in breast cancer," he said.

"Our approach has been different to the approaches other people have been using which is, rather than targeting the cancer itself, to look for ways in which we target the surrounding normal cells which the cancer hijack in order to help them progress and spread.

"Creld2 appears to make normal, healthy cells surrounding the tumour behave abnormally, causing them to help tumours grow."

Assoc Prof Samuel and his team are now looking at ways to destroy or block the protein, hoping to stop breast cancers from growing and spreading around the body.

"There are a couple of ways this can be done - one is to discover how the protein binds to these normal cells it hijacks," Assoc Prof Samuel said.

"The other is to raise antibodies against the protein to neutralise or destroy it."

Triple-negative breast cancers, commonly affecting younger women, have high levels of the protein and have the poorest survival rates.

These types of cancers make up about 15 per cent of all breast cancers nationwide.

High levels of Creld2 is also found in kidney, non-melanoma skin and squamous cell cancers.

Co-lead scientist Dr Marina Kochetkova said the biggest problem with triple-negative breast cancers was that they often reoccured, metastasized and acquired drug resistance.

"In many cases, these cancers come back with vengeance," she said.

"It is unlikely to cure triple-negative breast cancers but it will help with the combination of other drugs to make it less aggressive."

About 29 per cent of women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, making it the most common cancer according to Breast Cancer Network Australia.

It is also the second leading cause of cancer-related death in Australian women after lung cancer.

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