Big breakthrough: Protein linked to breast cancer identified

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Scientists have identified a protein that is strongly associated with metastatic breast cancer and could be a target for future therapies to treat the deadly disease. High levels of the protein ZMYND8 are correlated with poor survival in breast cancer patients, said Weibo Luo, assistant professor at University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center in the US.

Previous research has shown that breast cancer cells that are more aggressive in an oxygen-deprived, or hypoxic, environment. A protein family called hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) controls responses to hypoxia, switching on pathways that lead to cancer cell growth and spread, according to the study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

“Our research shows that ZMYND8 is a regulator that activates hundreds of HIF-dependent oncogenes in breast cancer cells,” Luo said. Research with a mouse model of breast cancer showed that depletion of ZMYND8 blocks the growth of new blood vessels in tumours and leads to breast cancer cell death.

“Our studies uncovered a feedback loop that amplifies HIF-controlled oncogenes to drive breast tumor malignancy,” said Yingfei Wang, assistant professor at UT Southwestern. Metastatic breast cancer is cancer that has spread to other sites in the body, and the vast majority of breast cancer deaths occur in patients in whom the cancer has metastasised.

“This work uncovers a primary epigenetic mechanism of HIF-mediated breast cancer progression, and reveals a possible molecular target for diagnosis and treatment of aggressive disease,” Luo said.

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