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New hope for inflammatory breast cancer

Posted Dec 20 2011 3:43pm
December 20, 2011 - Posted by tamilb

My Pink Ribbon Girls gang at the Conference for Young Women with Breast Cancer. Ashley is second from right.

I’ve talked about my friend Ashley Oehler before on these pages. My lovely friend passed away from inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) a few months ago, and I’m always wondering how her family, including her adorable son and daughter, are doing now. Well, I received my answer yesterday thanks to a local newscast, which featured her family and how they are coping without her during the holidays .

I am amazed by children’s resiliency and how cancer makes them wise beyond their years. Little Audrey, her daughter, talked about how her mom always wanted another child but couldn’t because of the cancer. It reminded me of my own daughter and our situation. (Our plans for a second child were thwarted when I was first diagnosed back in 2002.) I was relieved the family bond seems strengthened and that they are there to help each other. Ashley would have been proud.

She also would have been heartened to learn of new research that provides hope for people with this rare and very aggressive type of cancer. Researchers at George Mason University pinpointed a key driver in IBC that is leading to new ways to treat it. This summer, doctors at Philadelphia’s Fox chase Cancer Center began treating IBC patients with a drug originally developed for non-small cell lung cancer because Mason research revealed a commonality between the two cancers.

They discovered how the cancer works using proteomics, an approach that looks at proteins on the genes. If researchers had stuck with traditional genome analysis, they would have missed the protein that can be targeted to treat IBC.

“DNA is the information archive, but it is the proteins that do the work,” explains Emanuel “Chip” Petricoin, co-director of Mason’s Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine. “Proteins are the software of the cell. They basically direct the cell to die, grow, divide and metastasize. While many think of cancer as a genomic disease, it’s actually a proteomic disease. What is actually deranged in the cancer cells are protein pathways. These protein pathways form a linked network of interaction, talking to each other.”

And not everyone has the same network of activated proteins. If a patient’s cancer doesn’t have a particular protein turned on that the drug targets, then the drug fails.

When the Mason team began to study the cells from IBC patients, they were surprised to find a protein called anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK), which was previously unconnected to breast cancer. The best news is there’s already a drug on the market for treating patients with activated ALK and can be used for IBC, too, Petricoin says. If the results of their work are validated in further patients, more people stand to benefit because ALK activation appears much more often in IBC patients than in lung cancer patients.

Researchers are working to find better drugs or a new combination of drugs to treat the cancer as patients build resistance to existing treatments. They’re also searching for new ways to use current drugs that are already in the pipeline or have been cleared by the FDA. They are also applying its know-how to all other types of breast cancer and to colorectal cancer, multiple myeloma and cancers of the prostate, brain, lung and ovaries.

The study was funded by an American Airlines/Komen Race for the Cure Promise Grant. Ashley would have been happy that all the effort she and her friends and family did to raise money for Komen is going to a good cause. I just wish it came sooner so she could still be with us.

For more information about the research, contact Michele McDonald at mmcdon15@gmu.edu .

This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 20th, 2011 at 4:43 PM and is filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the feed. You can , or from your own site.
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