UBC scientists reveal a breast cancer’s insidious evolution

Faculty of Medicine researchers have decoded the genetic make-up of triple negative breast cancer, which could lead to more effective treatment. 

“It’s actually extremely complex, with each cancer at a different stage in the evolutionary process at the time of diagnosis, which helps to explain why patient responses to treatment differ greatly,” said Sam Aparicio, a professor in the Dept. of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and the BC Cancer Agency Chair of Breast Cancer Research. “What’s extremely motivating with these findings is the opportunity to design clinical trials for patients with triple negative breast cancer so we can explore patient responses to treatment at the genetic level and look at ways to improve therapies and outcomes for patients.”

The study’s co-lead, Marco Marra, a professor in the Dept. of Medical Genetics and Director of the BC Cancer Agency’s Genome Sciences Centre said the application of the discovery will depend, in part, on making cancer genome sequencing clinically feasible.

Marra and Aparicio were joined at the announcement by their co-lead, Sohrab Shah, an assistant professor in the Dept. of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and associate member of the Dept. of Computer Science; and Wendie den Brok, a second-year UBC medical resident who successfully overcame breast cancer as a medical student.

“I am very excited about the discoveries presented here today,” said den Brok, who earned her MD from UBC in 2010. “We are seeing the results of research that have shed an incredible light as to why my cancer responded to that particular chemotherapy. Although we didn’t know it at the time, it was the right target to a very specific of evolution of my disease. I, and other people with this disease, as well as those who will be diagnosed in the years ahead, can take a profound comfort in knowing that the treatment strategies will become much more highly individualized and more effective.”

The study included researchers from the Cross Cancer Institute of Alberta and Cancer Research UK/University of Cambridge, and was supported by the BC Cancer Foundation, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation-BC/Yukon Region and Prairies/NWT Region, the Alberta Cancer Foundation, the Alberta Cancer Prevention Legacy Fund and Alberta Innovates-Health Solutions, the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research and Cancer Research UK at the University of Cambridge.

For more information, visit: http://med.ubc.ca/ubc-scientists-reveal-a-breast-cancers-insidious-evolution/.