Breast Cancer Gene Found

Breast Cancer Gene Found

Researchers in an international study have identified a new gene that, if mutated, may increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer by more than a third. The study appeared in the September issue of Nature Genetics.

The gene, HMMR, interacts with the well-known breast cancer gene BRCA1. Alterations in either gene cause genetic instability and interfere with cell division, which could be a path for the development of breast cancer.

HMMR is mutated in about 10 percent of the population. Mutations in the two main genes involved in breast cancer susceptibility, BRCA1 and BRCA2, occur in fewer than one percent of the population, or approximately one in every 300 individuals.

“If we can identify variations of genes that are more common in the population that increase breast cancer risk, then targeting that gene for early detection or treatment will have a greater impact,” said Kristen Stevens, MPH, an SPH doctoral student in epidemiology and one of the lead authors on the paper.

The discovery points researchers not just to a single gene but to a pathway that may be a potential target for treating or detecting breast cancer.

Researchers started by developing a computerized network-modeling tool that allows many different types of existing scientific data sources to be analyzed easily to identify genes that affect cancer development. Through this model, HMMR emerged as a key player in breast cancer, said study author Stephen Gruber, who holds joint faculty appointments in SPH and the UM Medical School, and who directs the Cancer Genetics program at the UM Comprehensive Cancer Center. The research team also found evidence to suggest that HMMR is linked to early-onset breast cancer.

The study was an international collaboration with researchers from Spain, Israel, and the United States. The team studied a total of 2,475 women with breast cancer and 1,918 healthy women in Israel and New York. —UM Health System

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