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IU Researchers Target 'Genetic Typos' For Personalized Treatment Of Breast Cancer

Ed Uthman/

Indiana University cancer researchers are targeting genetic errors as they mold personalized treatment for patients with triple-negative breast cancer. Dr. Bryan Schneider, an associate professor of medicine at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center and medical oncologist, is leading the study. 

Triple-negative breast cancer

"A subtype of breast cancer that affects about one in five women who ultimately get breast cancer. In the past we thought about breast cancer as being one disease, but what we began to realize is that breast cancer is made up of multiple diseases...The patient doesn't have the estrogen receptor... Devoid of all known targets."

The unknown of triple-negative breast cancer 

"It's in many ways a derogatory term that implies we really don't know much about the cancer. What it also implies is that we really don't have good targeted therapies or smart therapies that hit the target that are known to destroy the tumor. So these are patients who really don't have a ton of specialized therapies for their cancer."

The blueprint of a cell

"A little bit about the humane genome project: This was a project released by Tony Blair and Bill Clinton back in 2000, where for the first time they mapped the entire encyclopedia of a human. This was a project that took about a decade and 3 billion dollars to perform. So although it was really cool and you could see a very fundamental level of a blueprint of a cell, this is obviously something too time consuming and expensive to really make a difference. Technology has made major advances recently so we can do the same sort of technology really in a few days for a few thousand dollars, which really allows us now at an unprecedented speed and pace to be able to look at these cancers at a very detailed level."

On targeting and destroying 'genetic typos'

"What makes a cell go from a well behaved cell, doing what it's supposed to do, to a cancer cell is usually through mutations. And I think of mutations as typos in that blueprint. So what we try to do is identify typos that we think are becoming a gas pedal for that tumor. And then by identifying these specific typos or gas pedals, we can then begin to look for drugs that we think will specifically hit that gas pedal and destroy it in a very rational fashion."

The "accelerator cell"

"It's a fundamental property of cancers to do things you don't want them to do, which is grow and spread beyond their boundaries. But more importantly, if you can capitalize on understanding it, we can move beyond the approach we do today, which is using things like standard chemotherapy drugs which really work by killing just fast-growing cells, nonspecifically. So in doing this, you see a lot of side effects. With these more intelligent approaches where you find that specific gas pedal, you not only get better at killing the cancer but you also have less side effects for the patient."