Biomarker for Malignant Breast Cancer Shows Promise for Diagnosis, Therapy, Mayo Clinic, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Children's Memorial Research Center Study

Published: May 17, 2012

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 discoveries.

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 Mayo Clinic.

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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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