Breast cancer research could expand lung cancer therapies

Jun 22, 2018

New research into a genetic mutation’s role in breast cancer could open new treatment options for an even more deadly disease, a Michigan State University scientist said Friday June 22 at the MSU Board of Trustees meeting.

“We sequenced the whole genome of tumor samples and found a driving mutation that has previously not been recognized as important,” said Eran Andrechek, a College of Human Medicine physiology professor.

“This mutation, once we validate and confirm it with ongoing work in our laboratory, has clear potential to identify lung cancer patients who should be receiving therapy that’s already approved by the FDA.”

Andrechek presented his research to MSU’s Board of Trustees. Using lab mice and computational analysis of sequenced genes, he and his colleagues learned that a mutation present—but apparently not consequential—in breast cancer turns out to inhibit growth of certain human lung cancer tumors. About 5 percent of lung cancer cases carry this mutation, he said.

That works out to some 11,000 people in the United States alone who could gain precious time from the most vicious of major cancers. “It’s not a cure yet,” he cautioned. “It’s extending life span and essentially buying time.”

Breast cancer is the most common among women, as prostate cancer is among men. But with improved screening for those cancers at least in the developed world, lung cancer kills more people than breast, prostate and colon cancer combined, according to the American Cancer Society. Overall, one in 15 men and one in 17 women will develop it in their lifetimes, with smokers at higher risk.

Andrechek’s initial research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and Worldwide Cancer Research. A conversation with Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies Steven Hsu led to MSU funding further gene sequencing work, with later support from the Midland, Michigan-based Elsa U. Pardee Foundation.

Andrechek’s research is under review for scientific journal publication. His laboratory group, meanwhile, awaits a decision on new grant funding. That would go toward better describing and then manipulating the mutation’s effect on the protein that regulates cancer tumor growth, before any human clinical trials can begin. He’s also working with another MSU laboratory to secure grant funding to apply the findings once again to breast cancer research.

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