Discovery could create new early-detection cancer strategy

FOX Medical Team

Discovery could create new early-detection breast cancer strategy

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MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) - Researchers at the University of Minnesota say they have made a discovery that could change the landscape for women with breast cancer, or even those who may get the disease down the road.

The U of M team found a human enzyme responsible for causing DNA mutations found in the majority of breast cancers.

The discovery of this enzyme -- called APOBEC3B -- may change the way breast cancer is diagnosed and treated.

"We strongly believe this discovery will change the way mutations in cancer are viewed and, hopefully, it will allow cancer researchers to develop new treatments approaches that can prevent these mutations before they become harmful," said Dr. Reuben Harris, an associate professor of biochemistry, molecular biology and biophysics at the University of Minnesota.

Dr. Harris stressed that additional research is still needed, but if further studies confirm high levels of the enzyme do indicate the early presence of breast cancer, a simple blood test could be a strategy for early detection.

This research actually began through a $10 million grant to study treatment for HIV and other viral diseases.

Through his team's research, Harris was able to conclude that this one enzyme is a key influencer in breast cancer.

"DNA mutations are absolutely essential for cancer development," Harris said. "Our experiments showed the APOBEC3B enzyme causes mutations in the genome of breast cancer cells. From this, we were able to reasonably conclude that the APOBEC3B is a key influencer in breast cancer."

However, Harris says APOBEC3B appears to be a biological "double-edged sword," protecting some cells from viruses such like HIV while producing mutations that give rise to cancer in others.

"Our next steps will focus on the connections between high levels of APOBEC3B, age and other genetic risk factors that are known breast cancer markers. Ultimately, we hope our discovery leads to better therapeutic outcomes for patients," said Harris.

The research appears in the latest edition of Nature.

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