A Scottish medical team has discovered that leukemia research could actually help scientists develop strategies for fighting breast cancer. The trick: researchers say that the faulty piece of DNA which causes leukemia also plays a role in the development of cancerous tumours.
The discovery comes from the University of Glasgow, where researchers have been investigating the activity of the RUNX1 gene commonly associated with leukemia (a cancer of the blood). Recently, those researchers found that RUNX1 isn’t just tied to leukemia, but also plays a role in the development of breast cancer.
In fact, recent tests have shown that breast cancer patients who tested positive for the RUNX1 gene were four times more likely to die from the disease.
Scottish researcher Dr. Karen Blyth says the discovery is very important because it “opens up the exciting possibility of using [RUNX1] as a new target for treatments.”
In other words, researchers can focus more attention on RUNX1 knowing that discovering a strategy for dealing with it will help many cancer patients.
Dr. Blyth says the next step should involve testing leukemia drugs to see if they will have any impact on breast cancer. “There’s a couple of drugs in development in the US to target this gene from a leukemia point of view, if they work we can test it in breast cancer cells,” Dr. Blyth said.
Unfortunately, it’s not yet clear how these drugs will affect breast cancer patients. Researchers say that RUNX1 is highly complex and can either encourage or suppress the development of tumours. That means using a leukemia drug to target breast cancer may have serious side effects.