University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center scientists have identified a strong link between the most aggressive type of breast cancer and a gene that regulates the body's natural cellular recycling process, called autophagy. Based on analysis of two large breast cancer databases, reduced activity of an autophagy gene, beclin 1, was related to both a higher incidence of triple-negative breast cancer and a poorer prognosis for breast cancer patients. The study, published on January 16, 2015 in the online journal EBioMedicine, is the first to document a correlation between beclin 1 and triple-negative human breast cancer and validates research in mouse models. "We have potentially identified a new pathway to be targeted in the most aggressive, difficult-to-treat form of breast cancer," said Beth Levine, M.D., (photo), Director of the Center for Autophagy Research and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Investigator at UT Southwestern. "These data suggest that decreased beclin 1 activity contributes to breast cancer and poor survival outcomes. As a result, therapies that increase beclin 1 activity in breast cancer may be beneficial." Triple-negative breast cancer, which accounts for 10 to 20 percent of breast cancer, is called such because the cancer's cells lack estrogen and progesterone receptors and also do not have an excess of the human growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) protein on their surfaces. Chemotherapy, the standard treatment, has been limited in its effectiveness against triple-negative breast cancer. "With low beclin 1 expression, you have up to a 35-fold higher risk of having triple-negative breast cancer. That's really strong," said Dr. Levine, who holds the Charles Cameron Sprague Distinguished Chair in Biomedical Science and is co-senior author of the study together with Dr.
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