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MSU to Use $1.5M Award to Study Spread of HER2 Breast Cancers

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – A Michigan State University scientist has been awarded a $1.5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to examine how gene expression in breast cancer may be involved in the spread of the disease, with the aim of developing personalized treatment models, MSU said yesterday.

Assistant Professor Eran Andrechek's research has focused on tumor development and in particular on the role of the E2F family of transcription factors, genes that control when other genes are expressed or amplified, and how they are involved in HER2 over-expression, which occurs in around 25 to 30 percent of all breast cancer cases.

"When we look at human breast cancer patients, specifically HER2 patients, we can split them up in various groups: some have good prognosis and respond to treatment and others don’t," Andrechek, principal investigator on the grant, said in a statement. "We need to understand why that happens."

His research team has already used bioinformatics approaches to show that the E2F transcription factor is active in HER2 breast cancer, and when it is not active the cancer is less likely to spread, MSU said.

Andrechek's hypothesis centers on a novel interpretation of E2Fs, which have traditionally been considered cell cycle regulators, as mediators of HER2 expression, according to his research proposal.

In this project, his group will seek to characterize the effects of removing E2F from a mouse model of HER2 cancer to determine how the changes happen once the gene is removed, and to find out if those mechanisms are involved in human breast cancer cases. The first aim is to define the genetic mechanisms by which E2Fs affect tumorigenesis and to validate those genetic pathways, and then to connect them to breast cancer.

"Since drugs such as Herceptin are only effective in 50 percent of HER2 patients, we need to know if the E2F gene is responsible for that," Andrechek explained. "Given the survival differences within patients with HER2 breast cancer, there is a compelling need to understand the genetic makeup of those tumors."

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