Singapore Scientists Uncover Gene Associated with Aggressive Breast Cancer

SINGAPORE: Scientists at Agency for Science, Technology and Research's (A*STAR) Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS), in collaboration with local clinicians and colleagues in the USA, have identified a biomarker strongly associated with the aggressive triple negative breast cancer (TNBC).

This newly identified biomarker provides a target for developing new therapeutics designed to treat the often deadly disease. TNBC is deadlier compared to other types of breast cancer because TNBC tumours do not respond to targeted therapy.

Molecular biologist Dr Feng Min and her colleagues at the GIS used breast cancer cell lines and genomic data from patient samples and found that patients with a high expression of the RASAL2 gene possessed a poorer survival rate compared to those who had lower levels of RASAL2 in their tumours.

“We show here that RASAL2 actually acts as a cancer promoting molecule in TNBC,” said Professor Yu Qiang, project leader of the study.

The study is the result of intensive collaboration with both local and international colleagues. Prof Yu said that he is seeking “industrial collaboration” for diagnostic assays for high-risk TNBC patients and reiterated the need for further clinical validation of the study.

“With a better understanding of the genetic makeup of tumours, it is now recognised that breast cancer comprises a diverse mix of tumours. This explains why not everyone with tumours of the same disease stage responds the same way to similar treatment,” said Dr Tan Ern Yu from Tan Tock Seng Hospital, who was also involved in the study.

The identification of RASAL2 now provides a target for scientists to develop new therapeutics to treat the disease.

GIS’ executive director, Professor Ng Huck Hui, said that the study was done as part of their efforts at creating “an ecosystem to allow close collaborations between researchers and clinicians”.

“Because the laboratory findings do not always replicate the ‘real world’ of human tumours, validation with samples derived from actual human tumours remains the ‘final proof’ of whether novel laboratory findings can be applied to clinical practice,” added Prof Ng.


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