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New Protein Target Could Prevent Breast Cancer Spread

Advanced breast cancer is characterised by metastasis, where cancer cells spread to other parts of the body. While treatment of primary breast cancer is usually successful, effective treatment options for metastatic breast cancer are limited and new treatment strategies to prevent cancer progression are urgently needed.

A new preclinical study by NBCF-funded researcher Professor Robin Anderson (Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute) has identified a new protein target that may help prevent metastasis. The study, published in the journal Cancer Research, investigated the role of the protein BMP4 (bone morphogenetic protein-4) in breast cancer in both mouse models and human patients.

Human breast tissue from an invasive ductal breast cancer with BMP4 stained (shown in brown). Image supplied by Professor Robin Anderson.

The study indicated that higher levels of the BMP4 protein suppress metastasis by a number of different mechanisms, including increasing their likelihood of dying whilst in the bloodstream after escaping from the primary tumour. Using a breast cancer mouse model, the Anderson group found that high levels of BMP4 protein in tumours inhibited metastasis and improved survival of the mice. The researchers also studied BMP4 levels in human breast tissue samples from 535 patients diagnosed with carcinoma in situ and invasive breast cancer. Promisingly, the researchers found that higher levels of BMP4 were associated with improved disease-free survival in patients with breast cancer, suggesting that BMP4 therapy may help to suppress breast cancer progression and metastasis.

Prof Anderson explained that, while promising, these results now need to be further validated before entering clinical trials.

“We now know that BMP4 plays an important role in the suppression of breast cancer metastasis,” she said. “Further investigation of BMP4 is warranted, as we need to identify a therapy that mimics the role of BMP4 and we need to be able to recognise which patients would benefit from this new treatment. Answers to these questions will allow us to develop more effective treatment options for metastatic breast cancer patients in the future.”

NBCF proudly supports the work of this research team, particularly funded investigators Professor Robin Anderson, A/Prof Erica Sloan (Monash University), and Prof Sherene Loi (Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre). A/Prof Andrew Redfern (Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research) was previously a recipient of NBCF funding.