Silencing ‘hedgehog’ molecule halts cancer

June 6th, 2011 - 12:13 pm ICT by IANS  

Sydney, June 6 (IANS) Breast cancer cells are known to create the conditions for their own survival by communicating their needs to the healthy cells surrounding them.

Now researchers have identified a molecule known as ‘hedgehog’ that sits at the centre of the switchboard in breast cancer, transmitting biochemical signals between cancer cells and healthy cells.

When this chat is blocked, the hedgehog is ’silenced,’ tumours shrink and stop their spread, the journal Cancer Research reports.

While the finding applies to all breast cancers, it is particularly relevant for women with basal breast cancer, (subtype of aggressive breast cancer) for which there is no current targeted therapy.

The good news is that drugs for silencing hedgehog are already undergoing Phase 2 clinical trials in other cancer types.

Clinical associate professor Sandra O’Toole and Alex Swarbrick, from Sydney’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research, analysed breast tumour samples from a cohort of 279 women with advanced breast cancer revealing that the higher the level of hedgehog, the more aggressive the cancer.

Having discovered high levels of hedgehog in some breast cancer patients, they went on to over-produce the protein in mouse models of basal breast cancer, said a Garvan statement.

Mice developed tumours that grew and spread through the body rapidly. When hedgehog was blocked, the tumour growth and spread were significantly slowed.

“We are hopeful that our findings will drive the progress of clinical trials for anti-hedgehog drugs in breast cancer,” said Swarbrick.

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