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Early diagnosis of breast cancer with the help of a lab test is key to a good prognosis. In the interest of developing better treatments for patients, a team of researchers from the University of Western Ontario studied the effects of a protein found in breast cancer cells.
In the new research, the scientists monitored a group of laboratory mice that were designed to serve as models of breast cancer. Once the disease manifested itself, the researchers experimented by turning off expression of Nodal, a protein that is normally found on stem cells but also exists on the surface of breast cancer cells. Shutting down this protein caused the blood vessels that nourished the tumors to collapse, depriving the malignant tissue of the resources it needs to survive.
Because Nodal is only present in diseased cells and not normal adults cells, it may be an easy mark for treatments.
"Ultimately it would be nice to target Nodal in patients who already have quite advanced, well-vascularized tumors as a new option for therapy," said lead study author Daniela Quail. "Currently, patients like this don't have many options."
In the U.S., more than 228,000 individuals will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, according to the National Cancer Institute. A lab test may help with early detection.
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