Breast Cancer: A Piece of the Puzzle

Leading Cause of Death

Breast cancer is the most common malignancy in women and the leading cause of death among women between the ages of 35 to 54. That makes it imperative to uncover every piece of the breast cancer puzzle in hopes that such information might one day lead to the eradication of the disease. While the cause of breast cancer remains a mystery, researchers suggest that combinations of genetic and environmental factors are associated with the development of the disease.

New research illuminates one aspect of how one particular gene associated with breast cancer, the BRCA1 gene, changes its form when called into play. The BRCA1 has been established to be a tumor suppressing gene, but its role in regulation is not well understood. Now, researchers at the University of Queensland, in Australia, headed by Dr. Melissa Brown, at the University's School of Molecular and Microbial Sciences have learned more about the way this gene behaves. Such knowledge may lead to better techniques in testing for the debilitating and life-threatening disease.

Loopy Behavior

Dr. Brown and Dr. Juliet French worked together with colleagues at The University of Oxford, to study the BRCA1 gene. The scientists discovered that the gene exists in a looped formation like that found in a hair bow or in the way the belt of a dress is tied.

Dr. Brown comments, "Our studies suggest that BRCA1 looks a bit like a bow when the gene is switched off, and that part of this 'bow' disappears when the gene is switched on."

Researchers found that the shape the bow takes changes in different breast cancer cells, suggesting the possibility that such gene looping may be a contributory factor in the cancer process. Brown believes that continued study will help to identify the specific DNA sequences as well as the DNA binding molecules involved in the process of BRCA1 gene looping. Wider testing of the gene in patients with breast cancer should help to determine the status of such sequences.

The scientists are hopeful that this newest piece of the puzzle will contribute to finding cancer in its earliest stages. "This information may lead to more sensitive pre-symptomatic testing for breast cancer and the identification of new therapeutic targets," said Dr. Brown.

A scientific journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, carried the results of this study a few short months ago, generating a great deal of excitement for breast cancer researchers worldwide.

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