[ Back to EurekAlert! ] Public release date: 20-Apr-2010
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Contact: Karen Mallet
km463@georgetown.edu
215-514-9751
Georgetown University Medical Center

In breasts considered 'healthy,' too much of 1 protein identifies abnormal growth

Washington, DC By examining tissue removed during breast reduction surgery in healthy women, researchers at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Center have found a molecule they say identified women who had atypical hyperplasia, a potentially precancerous condition in which cells are abnormally increased.

Their findings, presented at the AACR 101st Annual Meeting 2010, suggest that this protein, transforming growth factor beta 1 (TGF-β1), could be part of a panel of genes and proteins that physicians might one day use to identify women who are at future risk of developing breast cancer. Such a test would allow women at risk to receive appropriate monitoring, counseling, and potential preventive treatment.

"Our study indicates that higher than normal levels of TGF-β1 in breast cells may be important in the very beginning of the cancer process," says the study's lead investigator, Jose Angel Montero Santamaria, a tumor biology PhD student who is conducting research in the laboratory of Peter Shields, MD, professor in the departments of oncology and medicine and deputy director of Lombardi.

TGF-β1 is essential for the normal housekeeping of a cell, which requires a balance of cell growth and cell death, Santamaria says. Normally, it exhibits a Dr. Jekyll-like role, controlling normal growth, but once a cell begins to morph toward cancer, TGF-β1 is over-produced and exhibits its Mr. Hyde side, promoting the malignant transformation process.

In this study, Santamaria examined breast tissue samples donated from 92 healthy women undergoing breast reduction surgery. Santamaria's team examined RNA and protein expression from 75 of these samples. By examining the cells carefully, they were able to identify nine women with proliferative lesions, and a molecular and histological test showed over production of TGF-β1 in all of these women's breast tissue samples.

"The changes in their tissue can not be seen on a mammogram any other screening process we use today, which is why we are trying to develop a panel of molecular tests that will accurately determine an individual woman's future risk of developing breast cancer," Santamaria says.

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Santamaria reports no potential financial disclosures.

About Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center

The Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of Georgetown University Medical Center and Georgetown University Hospital, seeks to improve the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of cancer through innovative basic and clinical research, patient care, community education and outreach, and the training of cancer specialists of the future. Lombardi is one of only 41 comprehensive cancer centers in the nation, as designated by the National Cancer Institute, and the only one in the Washington, DC, area. For more information, go to http://lombardi.georgetown.edu.

About Georgetown University Medical Center

Georgetown University Medical Center is an internationally recognized academic medical center with a three-part mission of research, teaching and patient care (through Georgetown's affiliation with MedStar Health). GUMC's mission is carried out with a strong emphasis on public service and a dedication to the Catholic, Jesuit principle of cura personalis -- or "care of the whole person." The Medical Center includes the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing and Health Studies, both nationally ranked, the world-renowned Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Biomedical Graduate Research Organization (BGRO), home to 60 percent of the university's sponsored research funding.



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