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First Encyclopaedia of Breast Cancer’s Weaknesses



Tuesday 2 August 2011



Pioneering scientists at  The Institute of Cancer Research's Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre have created the world’s first encyclopaedia of genes that drive breast cancer. It is hoped that new targeted treatments leading directly from this work will be in clinical trials in the next few years. The research is published online in the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) journal, Cancer Discovery.*


The groundbreaking project is a big step towards forming a complete picture of the weak points in breast cancer cells. The data are now being made freely available for other scientists around the world to use, so that new targets for treatments can be found more rapidly and to encourage collaboration and co-operation in the fight against the disease.


Tumour cells have large numbers of genetic mutations, however many of these are coincidental alterations that do not contribute to the development of cancer. The scientists used the latest screening technology to look at thousands of genes in many different types of breast cancer. They then painstakingly sifted through the results to identify the genetic faults critical for the survival of each particular sub-type.


Study author Dr Chris Lord, from the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre at the ICR in London, said: “This could have huge ramifications in the fight against cancer. Creating an encyclopaedia of breast cancer allows us to gain the big picture of the disease. It gives us a clear sight of the chinks in breast cancer cells’ armour. We have made this data freely available to all because we know it is only through working together that we will defeat this disease.”


The study has already uncovered previously unknown links between particular genetic faults and specific breast cancer sub-types. One promising result shows that the gene TTK makes an excellent target for treating a specific subset of breast cancer patients. This would work in patients who lack a functioning PTEN gene, which is important in suppressing tumour development. A new class of drugs, called TTK inhibitors, are already in early stage clinical trials.


This work in the laboratory highlights the promise of these drugs and suggests which patients are likely to benefit from them. Work now has to be done to further understand the way in which these drugs work in this group of patients. Now the method has been shown a success, the scientists are continuing their work to identify all of the key genes for all breast cancer sub-types.


Professor Alan Ashworth, Chief Executive of the ICR and co-author, said: “We have made a big, first step towards a comprehensive understanding of breast cancer and how to break down its defences. With this knowledge we can develop new targeted treatments to kill cancer cells with particular defects. This points towards a future of personalised medicine, where each patient receives the right treatment for their specific type of disease.”




Media Contact: ICR Science Communications Manager Jane Bunce on 0207 153 5106 or after hours 077217 47900



Notes to editors:


* Functional Viability Profiles of Breast Cancer. Brough et al. Cancer Discovery.


Breast Cancer

  • Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK – nearly 48,000 women and around 300 men are diagnosed every year
  • One in eight women in the UK will develop breast cancer at some point in their lifetime
  • The good news is that more women than ever in the UK are surviving breast cancer thanks to better awareness, better treatments and better screening


The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR)

  • The ICR is Europe’s leading cancer research centre
  • The ICR has been ranked the UK’s top academic research centre, based on the results of the Higher Education Funding Council’s Research Assessment Exercise
  • The ICR works closely with partner The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust to ensure patients immediately benefit from new research. Together the two organisations form the largest comprehensive cancer centre in Europe
  • The ICR has charitable status and relies on voluntary incomeAs a college of the University of London, the ICR also provides postgraduate higher education of international distinction
  • Over its 100-year history, the ICR’s achievements include identifying the potential link between smoking and lung cancer which was subsequently confirmed, discovering that DNA damage is the basic cause of cancer and isolating more cancer-related genes than any other organisation in the world
  • The ICR is home to the world’s leading academic cancer drug development team. Several important anti-cancer drugs used worldwide were synthesised at the ICR and it has discovered an average of two preclinical candidates each year over the past five years

For more information visit


Breakthrough Breast Cancer

  • Breakthrough Breast Cancer is a pioneering charity dedicated to the prevention, treatment and ultimate eradication of breast cancer fighting on three fronts: research, campaigning and education. 
  • Breakthrough Breast Cancer funds ground-breaking research, campaign for better services and treatments and raise awareness of breast cancer.  Through this work the charity believes passionately that breast cancer can be beaten and the fear of the disease removed for good. Find more information at
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