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New Discovery: Breast Cancer Enzyme Causes Mutations

By February 11, 2013

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An enzyme called APOBEC3B is at the root of many DNA mutations that develop into breast cancer. The enzyme was discovered by researchers at the Masonic Cancer Center in the University of Minnesota. This research was published in this month's issue of the journal Nature.

Breast cancer gets started when DNA mutates - becomes broken or damaged - and cells begin to grow in a disorderly way, at faster than normal rates. These mutant cells don't follow the healthy life cycle of normal cells, in that they do not die and make way for new cells to replace them. Cancer cells hijack the body's resources and form tumors by multiplying in one or more locations. From the tumor, cells may shed into the blood and lymph systems, which allows them to spread and start new colonies of mutated cells. Scientists don't always know what causes the DNA of cells to mutate. But now they have isolated this enzyme, APOBEC3B, and shown that tumors with high levels of it have twice as much DNA damage as cells with very little of this powerful enzyme.

Dr. Reuben Harris of the University of Minnesota, worked on the research for APOBEC3B. He says this finding may lead to new therapies for fighting breast cancer. "In normal breast tissue, this enzyme is essentially not expressed," Dr. Harris said. "But in cancerous tissue [or] tumors, you see the level of expression trending strongly upward in over half of all the tumors." The trend for prevention and treatment could shift to blocking this enzyme, in order to stop cancer in its tracks. Michael Burns, a lead author on the paper said that we may see new treatments using drugs to stop the effects of APOBEC3B on breast cells.

Source: APOBEC3B is an enzymatic source of mutation in breast cancer. Nature (2013). Published online 06 February 2013.

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