A drug widely used to treat a bone disease could also help to combat an aggressive form of breast cancer, according to studies by the Zhejiang University School of Medicine.
Research led by professor Dong Chenfang found that zoledronic acid, which is used to treat osteoporosis, inhibits UGT8, a metabolic enzyme that drives the development of basal-like breast cancer, or BLBC.
BLBC is extremely hard to treat, since it falls into the triple-negative subtype, meaning its genes do not have an estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor or the HER 2 protein, the main targets for breast cancer therapies.
After analyzing more than 5,000 samples, Dong's team found that UGT8 was dramatically elevated in BLBC patients.
Breast cancer cells with high UGT8 expression produce large amounts of sulfatide, leading to activation of signaling pathways that are crucial for the survival and metastasis of BLBC. Depleting UGT8 from these cells lowered sulfatide production and decreased lung metastasis in mice, according to the team's findings, which were published in the May 4 issue of the US-based Journal of Experimental Medicine.
The researchers also identified zoledronic acid as a direct inhibitor of UGT8, which efficiently blocks the enzymatic activity of UGT8 and blocks the metastasis of cancer cells.
Two recent retrospective studies from randomized trials showed that a trend favoring zoledronic acid treatment was observed in triple-negative breast cancer despite a relatively small sample size.
"Our study and these retrospective findings strongly support the translational value of zoledronic acid as a direct inhibitor of UGT8, and BLBC might be the most promising subtype to be effectively treated with additional zoledronic acid," Dong told China Daily on May 7.
However, he said, further clinical trials are required.
Statistics from the China Society of Clinical Oncology show that breast cancers have become the most common cancer in women worldwide.
The risk of developing breast cancer increases with age, but in China, women are being diagnosed at younger ages than their Western counterparts, the China Anti-Cancer Association said.
The average age of Chinese women diagnosed with breast cancer is 45 to 55, about 10 or even 20 years younger than their counterparts in Western countries, Zhang Jin, vice-chair of the association's breast cancer committee, was quoted as saying.
With early detection, 95 percent of breast cancer patients can be cured. However, challenges remain in rural and remote areas, where patients often do not get tested until it's too late.
(Source: China Daily)