Targeting the ‘real bad guys’ in a particularly aggressive breast cancer

By Bryan Goodchild and Ellie Castano

UMass Medical School Communications

July 20, 2015

A team of researchers at UMass Medical School is collaborating to develop an effective treatment for triple-negative breast cancer, a particularly aggressive form of the disease. These cancers lack three important markers that are found in other breast tumors, markers that are normally targets for cancer drugs such as Tamoxifin. 

“These tumors are very aggressive and we don’t have the proper drugs to treat them,” said UMMS cancer biologist Arthur Mercurio, PhD. “As a result, they present a real problem in the clinic.”

“Within any tumor, there are a small group of cells that are the real bad guys,” explained Dr. Mercurio, professor of molecular, cell & cancer biology.

These cells are not killed by normal radiation and drug therapy. While the tumor may shrink as a result of therapy and the patient may go into remission, the “bad guys” remain and can grow to form a new tumor, which often metastasizes.

Brought together through the UMass Cancer Avatar Institute, Mercurio and colleagues Dale Greiner, PhD, the Dr. Eileen L. Berman and Mr. Stanley I. Berman Foundation Chair in Biomedical Research and professor of molecular medicine, Giles Whalen, MD, professor of surgery, and Hira Lal Goel, PhD, assistant professor of molecular, cell & cancer biology, are focused on understanding how these cells function and how they can treat them with therapies designed to target those cells specifically.

Learn more about the research in this video.