Gene driver for breast cancer discovered

A rare but hard-to-treat form of breast cancer is driven by a newly discovered gene, researchers have found.

ZNF703 is the first oncogene to be discovered in five years, and it could lead to more effective treatments down the road, Cancer Research UK said.

Oncogenes tell healthy cells to divide when needed. But in tumours, they are overactive and the cancer multiply unstoppably. The oncogene act like a stuck accelerator that leads a car to speed out of control.

In Friday’s online issue of the journal EMBO Molecular Medicine, scientists from Cancer Research UK’s Cambridge Research Institute and the British Columbia Cancer Agency in Vancouver said evidence strongly suggests ZNF703 is a new oncogene.

To come to that conclusion, they tested gene activity in 1,172 breast tumour samples that were estrogen receptor-positive.

Testing whether the gene is overactive in a tumour could help highlight those more likely to resist standard treatments, said the study’s senior author, Prof. Carlos Caldas, of the Cambridge Research Institute.
ZNF703 is overactive in around one in 12 breast cancers, Caldas noted.

The oncogene acts in the opposite way to better known cancer genes like BRCA1 and 2 that are tumour suppressor genes.

Tumour suppressor genes act like brakes to prevent a cell from multiplying out of control. But when these genes are missing, it is as if a car’s brakes were cut.

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