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Breast Cancer Genomic Profiling Reveals Clues to Treatment Resistance

August 11, 2017 | Bill Snyder

Thanks to advances in treatment, the relative five-year survival rate from all combined subtypes of breast cancer now exceeds 90 percent and yet the disease remains the third leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States after lung and colorectal cancers.

Carlos L. Arteaga, M.D.

More than 40,000 American women will die from breast cancer this year – approximately 80 percent of them because their tumors are resistant to anti-estrogen therapy and have metastasized, or spread to other parts of their bodies.

Now researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center have used tumor genomic profiling to identify “potentially druggable” changes in breast cancers that are positive for the estrogen receptor (ER) following short-term estrogen suppression.

Carlos L. Arteaga, M.D., senior author of the study published this week in the journal Science Translational Medicine, said genomic profiling will help researchers learn how tumors become resistant and may provide new opportunities to bring down the breast cancer death rate even further.

The ultimate goal is to combine the standard-of-care anti-estrogen therapy with an additional therapy that “trumps” these mechanisms of resistance, he said.

Arteaga, who holds the Donna S. Hall Chair in Breast Cancer, is a professor of Medicine and Cancer Biology. He directs the Center for Cancer Targeted Therapies and the Breast Cancer Program and is associate director for Clinical Research at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.

He will leave Vanderbilt at the end of August to become director of the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center and associate dean of Oncology Programs at the UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

The paper’s co-first authors are Jennifer M. Giltnane, M.D., Ph.D., a former Vanderbilt faculty member, and Katie Hutchinson, Ph.D., a former post-doctoral fellow in the Arteaga laboratory, both now at Genentech, and Thomas Stricker, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of Pathology, Microbiology & Immunology at Vanderbilt.

Other Vanderbilt faculty members who contributed were Justin Balko, Pharm.D., Ph.D., Ingrid Meszoely, M.D., Yu Shyr, Ph.D., Vandana Abramson, M.D., Ingrid Mayer, M.D., MSCI, and Melinda Sanders, M.D.