Friday, July 22, 2011

Group Therapy Can Help Women with TNBC

Doctors often pooh-pooh the link between our mental and physical states in terms of cancer. Those of us who have been there and done that believe differently, and feel intuitively that our minds and bodies are both linked to the disease.. Research published in Psychiatric Times provides some intriguing insight into how depression can make cancer worse, and how women with TNBC may be especially susceptible. For example, women with TNBC who were given group therapy lived longer than those who did not--a result that was not found with other breast cancers. Read an overview of the research here.

Can Blueberry Juice Reduce TNBC Risk?

More news that blueberries are not only delicious, but may be a path to reducing risk of triple-negative breast cancer. From the PR News Wire:

BLODGETT, Ore., July 5, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Renowned Scientists from around the world presented their latest berry research at last week's 4th Biennial Berry Health Benefits Symposium. New studies further demonstrate the profound impact berries have against age-related disease including cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and mental decline.

Members of the science and health communities gathered to hear nearly two dozen presentations, ranging from the role berries play in aiding oral health like gingivitis - to how polyhenolics can reverse brain aging. For example, a study led by Lynn Adams, Ph.D. from Beckman Research Institute showed that blueberry juice inhibited proliferation in triple negative breast cancer cell cultures and decreased mobility of cancer cells, an important step in slowing metastasis.

In another study, by Harini Aiyer, Ph.D. from Georgetown University School of Medicine, breast cancer tumors were reduced by up to 75 percent after rats were fed a diet containing either blueberries or black raspberries. Additionally, an Oklahoma State University study, conducted by Arpita Basu, Ph.D., RD, found that strawberries, blueberries, and low-calorie cranberry juice may help improve Metabolic Syndrome, a significant public health problem in the United States.

"Studies like these have great implications in terms of public health," said Gary Stoner, Ph.D., Medical College of Wisconsin. "The bottom line is that research continues to show us that berries are one of the most protective foods in the world and that we should not only continue to study their healing attributes, but consume them on a regular basis."

Study abstracts from the three-day conference can be viewed at:

About the Berry Health Benefits Symposium

The Berry Health Benefits Symposium is the only event solely dedicated to bringing together worldwide researchers in the field of berries and human health. Sponsored by every major berry organization in the United States, the goal is to make berry health research available to media, industry, academia and the public. The symposium is presented by the National Berry Crops Initiative, a nationwide organization whose mission is to develop a strategic plan for the continued growth and sustainability of berry crop production in the United States.

Androgen May Be Link to TNBC Treatment

The male hormone androgen may be a key to treating TNBC, say researchers from Dana Farber. The article, from the PR News Wire:

Dana-Farber study finds new points of attack on breast cancers not fueled by estrogen

BOSTON ––– Although it sounds like a case of gender confusion on a molecular scale, the male hormone androgen spurs the growth of some breast tumors in women. In a new study, scientists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute provide the first details of the cancer cell machinery that carries out the hormone's relentless growth orders.

The study, published the journal Cancer Cell on July 12, provides scientists with several inviting targets – cell proteins that snap into action in response to androgen – for future therapies. Drugs that block those proteins could slow or stifle tumor growth in many breast cancer patients who are not helped by standard hormone-blocking agents such as tamoxifen.

"We identified a novel subtype of breast tumor which grows in response to androgen but not estrogen, and have uncovered the signaling pathways involved in its growth," says senior author Myles Brown, MD. "And we've demonstrated that drugs capable of blocking these pathways, including the receptor for androgen itself, can inhibit tumor growth. This opens new avenues to the treatment of some women with breast cancer that doesn't respond to standard endocrine therapies."

About 70-75 percent of breast tumors are fueled by the female hormone estrogen. Their cells are loaded with estrogen receptors (ER), trap-like structures specially shaped to ensnare estrogen molecules. When estrogen becomes lodged in an estrogen receptor, it sets off a chain of events that prompts the cell to grow and proliferate. Drugs such as tamoxifen block estrogen from entering the receptor, thereby thwarting the growth process.

The remaining 25-30 percent of breast cancers, dubbed ER-negative tumors, lack estrogen receptors, and thus do not respond to tamoxifen and similar agents. Scientists know that the majority of breast tumors – even those with estrogen receptors – have receptors for androgen, but the reasons for these receptors' presence, and how they might influence tumor growth, have been unknown.

It might seem odd that some women's breast cancers carry receptors for a hormone associated with males, but androgen is also involved in the normal development of secondary sexual characteristics in females, Brown remarks. Scientists have theorized that androgen propels the growth of breast cancer cells that have receptors for androgen but not for estrogen. The current study set out to find if that is the case and, if so, why.

Using published data on the genomic make-up of breast tumor cells, Brown and his colleagues found a distinctive group – accounting for five to 10 percent of all breast cancer patients – that had large numbers of androgen receptors, no ERs, and an oversupply of a protein called HER2. Cells of this type proliferated rapidly when exposed to androgen.

To understand the mechanism behind this growth, investigators did a mass screening of these tumor cells' genetic material to see which sections of DNA bind to the androgen receptor – an indication of which genes the receptor directly switches on and off. By combining these findings with a survey of all the genes active within these cells, the researchers found that the androgen receptor governs two "transmission lines" – or pathways – for growth signals. The pathways, named for important proteins within them (WNT and HER2), play central roles in cell division and proliferation.

When researchers used drugs to handcuff the androgen receptor or the WNT or HER2 proteins in ER-negative breast cancer cells, tumor growth slowed – both in laboratory cell cultures and in mice grafted with the cells.

"These findings are strong evidence that therapies that shut down proteins in the WNT or HER2 pathways, or block the androgen receptor itself, can be effective anti-tumor agents for women with this variety of breast cancer," Brown says. "Combination therapies that target proteins at different points in the pathways are likely to have the greatest success."


The study involved a close collaboration between Brown's lab and the computation biology group at Dana-Farber headed by Shirley Liu, PhD. Brown and Liu recently founded the Dana-Farber Center for Functional Cancer Epigenetics in order to make the genomic and computational approaches used in this study more widely available to the scientific community.

The co-first authors of the study are Min Ni, PhD, and Yiwen Chen, PhD, of Dana-Farber. Co-authors include Elgene Lim, MD, PhD, Shannon Bailey, PhD, and Yuuki Imai, MD, PhD, of Dana-Farber; and Hallie Wimberly and David Rimm, MD, PhD, of Yale University School of Medicine.

The study was supported by grants from the National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, and Department of Defense.

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute ( is a principal teaching affiliate of the Harvard Medical School and is among the leading cancer research and care centers in the United States. It is a founding member of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center (DF/HCC), designated a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute. It provides adult cancer care with Brigham and Women's Hospital as Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center and it provides pediatric care with Children's Hospital Boston as Dana-Farber/Children's Hospital Cancer Center. Dana-Farber is the top ranked cancer center in New England, according to U.S. News & World Report, and one of the largest recipients among independent hospitals of National Cancer Institute and National Institutes of Health grant funding.

Houston Hospital Opens First-of-its Kind TNBC Clinic

The Methodist Cancer Clinic in Houston, Texas, recently announced that it was opening a clinic focused specifically on triple-negative breast cancer, according to a Your Houston News. Warning: The piece to which I am linking includes excessive usage of the term "especially aggressive." Reminder: The great majority of women survive TNBC.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Six TNBC Subtypes Discovered, with Different Responses to Chemotherapy

Scientists say triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) can be divided into six distinct subgroups, all of which respond differently to chemotherapy. In an article published in the July 2011 issue of Journal of Clinical Investigation, researchers from Vanderbilt University's Ingram Cancer Center say the disease can be grouped according to:

• two basal-like subtypes, which they call BL1 and BL2; these are correlated with cell cycle and DNA damage response genes
• two "mesanchymal" types, which they call M and MSL; these correlate to genes involved in cell differentiation and growth factor pathways
• an immunomodularity type, which they call IM, correlated with immune system genes
• a luminal group,which they call LAR, correlated with androgen, or the male sex hormone.

The groups respond differently to chemotherapy:

• BL1 and BL2 respond to cisplatin
• M and MSL respond to dastanib and an experimental drug NVP-BEZ235
• LAR respond to biculatamide

Read the entire news release from Vanderbilt here.