Scientists Have Identified the Gene That Fuels the Most Aggressive Type of Breast Cancer

Researchers at Cambridge University and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute have discovered that 8 out of 10 patients with triple negative breast cancer have the BCL11A gene.

The study involved nearly 3,000 patients with triple negative breast cancer. Scientists investigated changes in the participants’ genes that affected the developing tissues and stem cells. Eight out of ten patients had the BCL11A gene. Those with the gene were found to have a more advanced grade of tumor.

The researchers found the gene and then added it to mice and humans in a lab to see how they would react. When added, the BCL11A gene behaved like cancer cells. The researcher salso removed the gene and found the patient exhibited less cancer-like behavior.


According to the American Cancer Society, triple negative breast cancer is a disease in which cancer cells have no estrogen or progesterone receptors and don’t have very many HER2 receptors. About one in five breast cancer patients is diagnosed with this variety of the disease. Triple negative breast cancer doesn’t always show up on mammograms, and therefore, has likely progressed by the time doctors diagnose it.

The cancer is more often found in young women of Hispanic, Latin or African-American descent. This cancer is one of the most aggressive forms of the disease and spreads quickly. Treating the cancer is also difficult because hormone therapy and HER2-targeting drugs are not useful. Instead, chemotherapy is often used. Patients with the disease have a poorer five-year post-treatment outcome than others with less aggressive forms of the disease.

The team of scientists involved with the study hopes that identifying the relationship between BCL11A and triple negative breast cancer will lead to development of targeted gene therapy and treatment to better understand the causes of the disease.

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