Finally scientists in France have identified culprit cells in the blood of patients with breast cancer-but paradoxically these cells are not from patients tumours.

In a study that used individual hair samples the researchers identified a protein called MAD1 which shows high expression in patients with breast cancer but not in those without.

The discovery made by Imperial College London researchers in collaboration with the Paris Clinical Oncology Service Telecincer et Telecomire (public sector) could offer new options in the search for cancer-killing antibodies.

Professor Lionel Aubren of the Department of Oncology FHI from Imperials Cancer Research Institute (CRIC for short) who worked on the study: We have identified MAD1 to help us differentiate from another group those with breast cancer that do not respond to treatment as well because they are often resistant to chemotherapy. Our work has advanced our understanding of how these cells out-compete the immune system and make these patients resistant to treatment.

The team led by Dr. Aubren examined hair samples of 116 breast cancer patients for MAD1 expression using Peptide Interferon-gamma (PxG) assays. These tests take a biopsy sample and measure levels of a specific protein called Peptide Beta-1 Receptor 1 (Pb1) in the blood. In breast cancer production of Pb1-an anti-cancer factor-is increased by tumour-promoting factors.

Dr. Aubren who heads Imperials Critically-Intractable erythropoietic Oncology Unit added: Measurement of human-derived Pb1 is valuable to explore cancer susceptibility in the context of disease progression and drug discovery. We believe that our research is critical in this regard.

Pb1-fusions between cancer cells initiate

The team detected no significant Pb1 activation in any tumours but in the nine out of 10 of the critically-ill patients given daily oral MK10055-a kinase inhibitor-which does reveal Pb1 activation.

These patients lacked when they showed evidence of tumor progression-including hair lines on biopsied scalp and sample taken from patients in the CKG. Hot flashes and night sweats no longer occurred in the eight patients in the patients that did have tumors grow large enough to be diagnosed with breast cancer. In addition we did not detect any disruption to normal sleep timing in the nine patients given daily doses of MK10055 said Professor Aubren.

His conclusion: These studies have just begun to reveal how much of an important therapeutic target and genetic vulnerability have been uncovered in cancer patients in recent years. Our work provides specific information which could help scientists to identify novel therapeutic targets and therapeutic strategies to overcome these elusive pathogenic cellsRead more from the American Cancer Society.