Cancer occurs in uncountable forms, and we are far away from understanding all the mechanisms that lead to its variety. For example, did you know that not only the mutated gene is responsible for the emerging of a certain type of cancer but also its cellular origin? That’s what researcher from Belgium and Australia just published in Nature.

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women. There’s not only one breast cancer but several sub-types that differ in molecular characteristics. Many of them arise when a cell sustains a mutation in the genes p53 and PIK3CA. But even if the liable gene is identified, no one can say which type of tumor will be formed.

Researchers from the Free University of Brussels helped on bringing us one step closer to understanding it though. They studied different mouse models to identify the cellular origin of PIK3CA and p53 induced breast tumors. To their own surprise, they saw that the emerging tumors exhibited distinct features, depending on the function of the cell from which they derived. For example, luminal cells generally led to more aggressive tumors.

Cédric Blanpain

Cédric Blanpain. Source:

“These new findings not only demonstrate the importance of the cancer cell origin in controlling breast tumor heterogeneity, but also show that the gene expression signature found in the early steps of tumor initiation is predictive of the type of tumors that will eventually develop and the clinical prognosis of women with breast cancers”, said the senior author Cédric Blanpain in a statement.

This discovery shows that the cellular origin should be taken into account when it comes to cancer treatment. It can be both predictive for the tumour type as well as the clinical outcomes. Biotech companies could profit from this insight to develop new therapies or diagnostics to better fight cancer.

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