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Is the Answer to Breast Cancer in Our DNA?


Solving a riddle is always easiest when you have all of the background information. The same concept applies to breast cancer. When doctors can determine what is causing breast cells to multiply rapidly, they can prescribe the medication most likely to remove the stimulus. However, the sources of some cancers remain mysteries. Researchers hope to unravel these secrets by looking at the biological makeup of tumors. 

Identifying the Causes of Breast Cancer 

Cancer, the uncontrollable and often unpredictable spread of cells, can stem from many different causes. When the exact reason the cells are spreading is unknown, treatments tend to be less effective than they could be. Researchers are taking this to heart and looking into individual tumors’ DNA, RNA, and proteins for the answer. 

Normal cells don’t rapidly divide. Therefore, when cells begin to reproduce at an extraordinary rate, doctors use data and computer-based algorithms to determine the cause. For example, the exact driver of triple-negative breast cancer is unknown, so researchers sequenced the DNA, RNA, and proteins of cell samples from triple-negative tumors. From this data, they have managed to narrow it down to one likely cause: an altered expression of a gene called DPYSL3. 

Turning Research Outcomes Into Actionable Insights  

After finding the likely cause of a type of cancer, researchers can look into ways to stop this mutation from expressing itself. Researchers delve deeper and test theories that can lead to drug development for certain cancers, meaning treatments can become more specific, accurate, and effective.

The Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center at the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center is a Proteogenomic Translational Research Center, meaning they complete these studies in-house. 

“As a Proteogenomic Translational Research Center, we are transitioning the proteogenomics technology and bioinformatics from a research tool into clinical utility, giving us a dramatically deeper look at what the cancer cells are doing in patients,” says Matthew Ellis, MD, Associate Director of Precision Medicine.

Additionally, this facility at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center is one of only three NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in all of Texas. If you’re interested in participating in a clinical trial, learn about the available opportunities, and speak with your St. Luke’s Health oncologist. They can help you determine if participation is the right option for you. 

Sources: 
Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center | Annual Report 2019
Baylor College of Medicine | Ellis receives ASCO award for contributions to breast cancer genomics research, mentorship
Baylor College of Medicine | First large-scale proteogenomic study of breast cancer provides insight into potential therapeutic targets
NIH | Proteogenomics Approach Identifies DPYSL3 Gene in Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
Baylor College of Medicine | DPYSL3 an outlier gene in triple-negative breast cancer

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