Recent Advances in Breast Cancer Research – Part I

July 2, 2014

By Vishaaq Mathew

Although modern medicine has made great strides recently in the targeted therapy of breast cancer, it is rarely discussed through common news sources.

UBCF’s mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of those affected by breast cancer, and this includes our responsibility to educate the general public on any relevant information pertaining to breast cancer, and breast cancer treatment. This is the first article in this series, and is our way of giving you some insight into the forefront of breast cancer research.

Earlier this year, a group of researchers in Australia discovered protein biomarkers in breast cancer patients that can accurately identify the presence of breast cancer through a patient’s blood sample[1]. By analyzing the plasma of the blood, researchers were able to identify five proteins that were different in the blood of breast cancer patients versus healthy volunteers. Using these five proteins as a biomarker, it is possible to diagnose breast cancer through blood analysis alone[1]. Breast cancer is usually identified through clinical examination and diagnostic screening, and these methods may be time consuming, expensive, or require invasive procedures. The significance of an accurate serum biomarker for breast cancer is huge; this finding may allow physicians to administer a simple blood test to determine the presence of breast cancer, and avoid unnecessary screening and clinical testing.

Another recent development in breast cancer research has been the investigation of the mTOR pathway, a pathway involved in cell growth and proliferation. Studies have shown that the mTOR pathway, if dysfunctional, can lead to malignancies in cell growth and the development of cancer[2]. Since this discovery, a new study has been published that documents the effectiveness of inhibiting the mTOR pathway to hinder the development of breast cancer. The study concluded that mTOR inhibitors have great clinical potential, and should be considered as a viable option when treating breast cancer[2].

Perhaps the greatest development in breast cancer treatment in the past few years has been the FDA approval of Herceptin, an antibody that can stop the growth of breast cancer cells, and selectively destroy them. Although the drug was successful to some extent, a recent study found that 70% of patients treated with Herceptin eventually relapsed[4]. The reason for such a high rate of cancer relapse was because of the insufficient targeting of certain stem cell populations . These cancer stem cells would survive despite Herceptin treatment and rejuvenate the breast cancer over time[3]. A new treatment method was developed to meet this challenge in which Herceptin was combined with mertansine (DM1), a conjugate cytotoxic agent. Cytotoxic agents are used to selectively target cancer cells and kill them. This new combined treatment, known as Kadcyla, was FDA approved last year after successful clinical trials[4].

The field of breast cancer research is dynamic and constantly changing; making way for new developments and better technology. We at UBCF hope that we were able to give you a small peek into the revolutionary research being conducted around the world to fight breast cancer, and hope you check in next week for the next installment in this series.


  1. Chung, Liping, et al. “Novel serum protein biomarker panel revealed by mass spectrometry and its prognostic value in breast cancer.” Breast Cancer Research 16.3 (2014): R63.
  2. Vicier, Cecile, et al. “Clinical development of mTOR inhibitors in breast cancer.” Breast Cancer Research 16.1 (2014): 203.
  3. Al-Hajj M, Wicha MS, Benito-Hernandez A, Morrison SJ, Clarke MF. Prospective identification of tumorigenic breast cancer cells. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2003;100:3983–3988.
  4. Diessner, J., et al. “Targeting of preexisting and induced breast cancer stem cells with trastuzumab and trastuzumab emtansine (T-DM1).” Cell death & disease 5.3 (2014): e1149.

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UBCF is committed to offering breast health and wellness services focused on cancer prevention, screening, treatment and overall wellness. UBCF’s mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of those affected by breast cancer and carries it out through seven life-supporting patient and family programs available to women, men and families nationwide. UBCF never denies services to anyone regardless of age, race, gender, ethnicity, income or medical insurance coverage. Tax-deductible contributions may be made towards UBCF’s programs. UBCF accepts vehicle and property donations as well. Combined Federal Campaign #77934

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