May 17, 2012 -- Early diagnosis of breast cancer is crucial to the long-term survival of patients. One tool upon which clinicians increasingly rely is the use of molecular markers to identify malignancies. As examples, estrogen and
progesterone receptors, as well as the epidermal growth factor receptor HER2, correlate with disease
progression, survival and response(s) to therapy. However, breast cancer is heterogeneous, which means that
established biomarkers are useful only for certain types and stages of disease. This leaves room for new
A collaborative study involving investigators from Mayo Clinic and Children’s Memorial Research Center,
Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, led by Mary J.C. Hendrix, PhD and Edith Perez, MD,
investigates the clinical significance of Nodal expression in breast cancer. Nodal, a gene that is essential for
cellular and structural organization in early development reappears in certain types of aggressive cancers,
including melanoma and prostate carcinoma. In the current study, the authors determined the
immunohistochemical level of Nodal in breast tissues of over 400 patients previously diagnosed with benign or
malignant breast disease. The data reveal that Nodal expression is significantly higher in malignant versus benign
breast disease; moreover, the degree of Nodal staining correlates with poorly differentiated, advanced stage and
lymph node positive breast cancer. The researchers then treated two human breast cancer cell lines with a Nodal
blocking antibody, which significantly reduced proliferation and colony-forming ability. These findings suggest that
Nodal can be exploited as a novel prognostic biomarker, and that anti-Nodal therapy may be successfully
developed to target breast cancer. The article, published in BioMed Central’s open access journal Breast Cancer
Research, was the subject of a commentary and selected as an “Editor’s pick” in the journal.
First author Luigi Strizzi, MD, PhD is a research assistant professor in the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer
Center of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a member of the laboratory of Mary J.C.
Hendrix, PhD. Corresponding authors are Mary J.C. Hendrix, PhD, President and Scientific Director of Children’s
Memorial Research Center and a member of the Lurie Cancer Center and Edith Perez, MD, Deputy Director at
Large of the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center. Co-authors Katharine Hardy, PhD, Naira Margaryan, DVM, PhD, and
Elisabeth Seftor, BS are members of the Hendrix laboratory. Co-authors David Hillman, PhD, Beiyun Chen, MD,
Xochiquetzal Geiger, MD, E. Aubrey Thompson, PhD, Wilma Lingle, PhD and Cathy Andorfer, PhD are members of
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Affiliated with Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
This research was supported by an award from the National Cancer Institute, with supplemental funds through
the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.
The article is available for free at BioMed Central.
Children’s Memorial Research Center is the research arm of Children's Memorial Hospital, the pediatric teaching
hospital for Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. The research center is also one of the
interdisciplinary research centers and institutes of the Feinberg School, where principal investigators who are part
of the research center are full-time faculty members.
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