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article imageBreast cancer trigger identified

By Tim Sandle     Dec 1, 2013 in Science
A new study has shown how a reduction in DNA content in certain cells leads human breast cancer cells to take on aggressive, metastatic properties.
The new observation is that tumor cells from certain breast cancer patients with aggressive forms of the disease contained low levels of mitochondrial DNA. The research has found that as many as 80 percent of people with breast cancer have low mitochondrial DNA content. This plan to extend this study to in vivo mouse models and will also investigate these mechanisms in tumor samples from human breast cancer patients was shown by carrying out studies in stem cells.
Mitochondria are membrane-enclosed structures found in most cells. They are sometimes described as "cellular power plants" because they generate most of the cell's supply of energy. Mitochondria are also involved in the process of programmed cell death by which potentially cancerous cells can be killed before they multiply and spread.
The implications of the research are that the findings should improve medical understanding as to why some cancers progress and spread faster than others. Furthermore, the research may offer clinicians a biomarker that would distinguish patients with particularly aggressive forms of disease. As the next step, the researchers plan to extend this study to in vivo mouse models and will also investigate these mechanisms in tumor samples from human breast cancer patients.
The research was undertaken at the University of Pennsylvania. The findings have been published in the journal Oncogene, in a paper titled "Mitochondrial retrograde signaling induces epithelial–mesenchymal transition and generates breast cancer stem cells."
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