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article imageCanadian Scientists Make Breakthrough in Breast Cancer Treatment

By Michelle Duffy     May 13, 2007 in Health
Scientists from Canada's McGill University have found a way to target and potentially treat up to 40 per cent of breast cancers. During testing, they were able to block an enzyme that helps tumours grow.
Cancer researchers have found a way to potentially beat breast cancer by blocking the action of the enzyme responsible for cancerous tumour growth. By blocking this tumour growth, scientists say it could allow them to treat almost half of all patients with breast cancer.
At McGill University in Montreal, Canada, a group of researchers studied an enzyme called PTP1B. During tests on mice, they said the enzyme appears to "remove the breaks on cell division" that fuel tumour growth. Approximately 40 per cent of all breast cancers show a high level of this enzyme.
When treated with the drug Herceptin, blocking PTP1B enzymes showed it was possible to stop cancerous cells from dividing and doing any further damage.
Naturally, it has yet to be considered a successful treatment in humans. But when using the treatment on laboratory mice, the idea of blocking enzymes has worked: By giving mice the breast cancer drug, Herceptin, the mice showed a notable delay in the growth of breast tumours.
Researchers behind the study are confident the treatment will work on humans. They say the effect of the disease in mice was found to be triggered through a gene called HER-2, which about a quarter of women with breast cancer have. When overactive, the HER-2 gene can develop into a tumour.
The PTP1B enzyme has also been found to be the a factor in the development of obesity and diabetes, where it cuts off insulin receptors in the body. So far there have been a large number of drug companies working on blocking the action of this enzyme to treat these specific complaints.
As well as being an effective way to treat (or at least stop) breast tumours from growing any further, scientists have discovered that combining PTP1B blockers with the drug Herceptin can also halt secondary tumours developing in the lungs.
Leading the team of researchers in Montreal was Professor Michel Tremblay, who was very pleased with the results. Tremblay said:
"This study is very exciting for cancer patients. However it won't cure cancer alone. It's another tool to tackle cancers, perhaps particularly for HER-2 positive tumours. Combined with Herceptin, it may provide a 'two-way kill'."It can certainly give hope to the the tens of thousands of men and women diagnosed with breast cancer each year.
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