A new study has linked deficiency in a gene that controls autophagy, a process that recycles cell waste, with the triple-negative breast cancer. UT Southwestern Medical Center scientists found 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.

Dr. Beth Levine, Director of the Center for Autophagy Research, said that with low beclin 1 expression, you have up to a 35-fold higher risk of having triple-negative breast cancer. Along with the 35-fold higher risk of having triple-negative breast cancer, the findings showed low levels of beclin 1 activity also correlated with worse outcomes. Increasing beclin 1 activity could, therefore, become a new therapy for breast cancer patients, especially those with the triple-negative type. Several approved drugs that happen to increase beclin 1 activity are already used for other types of cancer. They included four classes of drugs: inhibitors of either beclin 1/BCL-2 binding, protein kinase B (AKT), epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), or HER2.

Dr. Levine’s research team studies genes involved in the autophagy process and their roles in cancer, aging, infections, and neurodegenerative diseases, while Dr. Xie’s UT Southwestern lab focuses on improving cancer treatments through statistical and computational analysis of biological and clinical data.

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