Scientists at George Mason University’s Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine and clinicians at the Inova Fairfax Hospital Cancer Center are partnering to take a revolutionary step forward in breast cancer research that could lead to new strategies for breast cancer screening, intervention to prevent breast cancer at the pre-invasive stage and treatment of advanced metastatic disease, and significantly alter how oncologists treat breast cancer.
The team will investigate living tissue to determine if cancer stem cells -- thought to be the driving force behind the development of cancer -- are present in the earliest stages of premalignant tumors. This may be the first time living, precancerous human breast tissue has been used in this type of breast cancer research.
Ductal carcinoma in situ -- or DCIS -- will be studied to understand how early invasive and metastatic cancer cells develop. It is the most common type of noninvasive breast cancer in women and accounts for an estimated 30 percent of the 185,000 breast cancers detected by mammography each year.
“Understanding the potential role of breast cancer stem cells within the DCIS tissue microenvironment has important clinical implications for women with DCIS and for their physicians,” says Dr. Kirsten Edmiston, Inova Fairfax Hospital Cancer Center medical director and co-principal investigator on the project. “This collaboration will help identify strategies to prevent noninvasive DCIS from becoming potentially lethal invasive breast cancer.”
Goals of this pioneering research are to determine if a DCIS lesion has pre-existing invasive potential that is suppressed by the ductal wall and if a DCIS-specific stem cell exists that unlocks the invasive potential of the tumor.
“Discovery of a stem cell from the DCIS lesion would represent a paradigm shift for our understanding and treatment of cancers,” explains Dr. Lance Liotta, CAPMM co-director. “Most people are concentrating on stem cells from cancer that already is present, but our unique hypothesis is that a stem cell may exist within the premalignant lesion. The combination of proteomic and tissue dissection technologies that we will bring to bear on this question will give us a unique opportunity to hunt for this cell, if it exists.”
Identifying a DCIS-specific stem cell may help scientists find the missing link between normal breast stem cells and malignant breast stem cells and contribute to a better understanding of the invasive potential of nonmalignant DCIS lesions.
“The goal is not only to discover a premalignant stem cell, but also to use our unique protein array technology to crack open the protein pathways that are activated,” says CAPMM co-director Emanuel Petricoin III. “By doing this, we could identify which therapies could be used to kill or differentiate the very cell that would go on to cause invasive cancer.”
This two-year $750,000 study is funded by the newly created Synergistic Idea Award offered through the U.S. Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program.