5 Aprile 2018

The many faces of breast cancer revealed

A research study managed to trace the origin of a particularly insidious type of breast cancer by identifying the mechanisms it uses to change continuously and to escape targeted therapies. The results have been published in Nature Communications. The research team is led by the researchers of the Centre for Integrative Biology – CIBIO of the University of Trento

Some mammary tumors are particularly insidious, are diagnosed at a late stage and are not yet treated with targeted therapies. A study, recently published in “Nature Communications”, sheds some light on the origin, the points of weakness and the mechanisms through which these types of tumor keep changing. These scientific results open new ground for applications in personalized medicine and help researchers understand if in the future it will be possible to predict the onset of metastases.
The research study focused on triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), a type of breast cancer that escapes diagnosis until it has already reached an advanced stage, and which appears to have a changing nature.
The research team led by Alessio Zippo of Cibio – the Centre for Integrative Biology of the University of Trento, participated in the study.
“Like Gabriel John Utterson, we have revealed the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde of mammary tumors”, explained Alessio Zippo, who is heading the project with colleague Matilde Todaro from the University of Palermo.
How was the study conducted?
“We have recreated the source of the tumor in vitro. To do that, we have inserted oncogenic elements found in tumoral cells in healthy human cells taken from a mammary gland. Thanks to this study we were able to understand that cancer cells soon start to change their appearance, reprogramming as cells with completely different characteristics. These changes have eluded cancer research so far”.
This is a key turning point. “Researchers – affirmed Zippo – have been working for years on the ambitious goal of beating cancer, which appears in different forms, can change and mutate, and can hide in our system, making this fight unfair and often hard to win”.
“Unfortunately, the most advanced diagnostic methodologies can find a tumor only when it has already grown into a “visible” mass, that is to say when its development has been going on for some years. When we are finally are able to see the tumor, it often appears as a very heterogeneous mass of cells, made up of many different cells that continue to change. This ability to change is a deadly weapon that cancer often exploits to escape the effects of cancer drugs and expand to other tissue (metastases), for which there are limited therapeutic solutions”.
This study is the result of a scientific collaboration between the University of Trento, with Cibio (Laboratory of Chromatin Biology & Epigenetics), the University of Palermo, with DiBiMIS (Biomedical Department of Internal and Specialist Medicine), and Policlinico Maggiore in Milan. The research project, which was initiated by the National Institute of Molecular Genetics in Milan, was funded by the Italian Ministry of Health, Fondazione Cariplo and Associazione italiana per la ricerca sul cancro (Airc).
About the article
Title: “MYC-driven epigenetic reprogramming favors the onset of tumorigenesis by inducing a stem cell-like state”. The paper is available in Open Access at the following address: