Here’s why breast cancers can become drug resistant

As the case in most cancer cases, breast cancer can also be prevented if detected at an early stage. However, in majority of breast cancer cases developing resistance to drug is nearly inevitable after a certain point of time. Now, a new study by German scientists has shown why it might be so.


Photo Credit: K B

HER2 membrane is the key element in some breast cancers because elevated levels of HER2 trigger uncontrolled cancer cell growth in a patient. In order to prevent this growth, antibodies that are HER2 – adapted are used in treatments. However, two-thirds of breast cancer patients foster resistance against these drugs that target HER2.

Attempting to understand this, the German research team has found that HER2 dimers are nonexistent from a small sub-population of undeveloped SKBR3 breast cancer cells, which means they might have self-regenerating abilities and are resistant to HER2, thereby triggering cancer cell growth.

Researchers from the INM Leibniz Institute for New Materials and the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) utilized a firsthand method known as “Liquid STEM” that is an electron microscopy method to learn how HER2 spreads around breast cancer cells and make them drug resistant.

This method permitted nanoscale analysis of intact cells in their inhabitant liquid surroundings.
They found that almost 7 percent of cells within a population possessed a flat surface membrane and poor HER2 representation while most of the cells possessed a surface membrane with a ruffled appearance. A few of the ruffled membranes had heterogeneous circulation of HER2 on the cell surface while others had homogeneous.

When the research team next evaluated if these kinds of HER2 membranes varied according to their cellular placement – homodimer, heterodimer or monomer protein, they discovered that cells with unequal circulation of HER2 were more probable to have HER2 at the top edge of them while cells with equal circulation of HER2 had HER2 in all the three phases.

Professor N. de Jonge, one of the members of the research team said, “Our novel findings were obtained as a direct consequence of the high spatial resolution of Liquid STEM combined with its capability to study many intact cells in liquid.”

The study has been published in the journal “Science Advances.”

Breast cancer is the most ordinary form of cancer among women both in developing as well as developed countries. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 508,000 women approximately globally, died of breast cancer in 2011. reported that every 1 in 8 U.S women carry the chances of developing invasive breast cancer. It also reported that approximately 231,840 fresh cases of invasive breast cancer are anticipated to be diagnosed in 2015 with the numbers going to 60,290 for non-invasive cases, and the mortality rates expected to be 40,290.

According to Cancer Research Centre UK, 50,285 cases of breast cancer were registered in U.K in 2011 with 11,716 women dying in 2012. In the span of 2010-2011, 78 percent of English and Welsh women were reported to have been living for 10 or more years with breast cancer.

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