Role of Estrogen in Breast Cancer Gene Amplification
Susan Gerbi, Ph.D., Principal Investigator
George Eggleston Professor of Biochemistry and founding Chair of the Department of Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Biochemistry Brown University, Providence, RI
Estrogen is involved in the development and progression of nearly 65 percent of all breast cancers. Much like a key inserts into a lock to open a door, we know that when estrogen binds to estrogen receptors, it unlocks signals that cause the cell to replicate and grow. The series of studies being conducted in this grant are exploring an exciting new way of thinking about how hormones like estrogen trigger cell growth. These studies will test the hypothesis that estrogen causes cells to make extra copies of genes – a process called gene amplification – and that the genes amplified by estrogen could enhance the malignancy of the disease. Gene amplification plays a role in the development of breast cancer, and these amplified genes can often be targeted by novel cancer drugs to treat breast cancers with a specific gene amplification. For example, the HER2 gene is amplified in some breast cancers, and tests are available to determine whether a tumor has HER2 amplified so that patients can be treated with cancer drugs (like Herceptin) designed to target HER2.
Dr. Gerbi's research aims to understand how estrogen may amplify genes, with the hope that this research could ultimately lead to the development of new cancer therapies that stop this process and the subsequent formation of tumors.
How will the Research Bring Us Closer to the Cures?
Many of the most effective treatments today target the specific processes within cells that are triggering cell growth. Targeted therapies combined with early detection have been credited for declines in breast cancer deaths by more than 2 percent each year since 1990. By understanding the sequence of steps by which estrogen causes amplification of genes that trigger cell growth, we can develop new therapies to stop this process. It also may be possible to measure these early changes even earlier than current methods to screen for breast cancer, and introduce therapies that will prevent gene amplification and subsequent cell proliferation.