New Hope in Breast Cancer Research

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Treating and even possibly curing breast cancer may rest in the hands of some Texas A&M researchers who have been looking at the link between cancer and Down Syndrome.

"Since the 50's we have known that they just don't get cancer at all," Texas A&M Associate Professor in the Veterinary Integrative Biosciences Weston Porter said. "Matter of fact they don't get breast cancer. They're 10 to 25 percent less likely to have breast cancer than the normal population."

Researchers now believe that a gene called SIM2 attached to the 21st chromosome may provide protection from cancer. However, only those with Down Syndrome have the extra SIM2 protection.

"We have investigated to see if SIM2 is in normal mammary glands or breasts and to see if it is downgraded in cancer, and indeed that's what we found," Porter said. "It is down-regulated in cancer patients about 75 percent of the time."

The way it works Porter says is that the SIM2 genes on average seem to turn off when cancer attacks.

"We found that in the mice they get a high base of cancer and that would correlate with what we are seeing as a tumor suppressor, get extra amounts of it and it suppresses the tumor. If you lose it you see increased tumor genesis," Porter said.

Porter says the good news is they found that the gene has just been turned off-not mutated. The trick is...

"Can we identify a drug or a series of drugs that can get to the light switch or the circuit that's going to turn the gene back on again," Porter said.