In 2010, a group of researchers at the Institute for Molecular Biotechnology (IMBA) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna already discovered that the sex hormones can trigger breast cancer through two proteins of bone metabolism called "RANK" and "RANKL".
RANK inhibition protected mice against preliminary stages of cancer
The young scientist Verena Sigl now made the discovery that RANKL is also the main driver of genetically caused mammary cancer due to the mutated BRCA1 gene. In her study, the researcher compared mice with a mutation of the BRCA1 gene. First and foremost, RANK/RANKL were active. Carcinomas and extreme malignant changes, the preliminary stages of the carcinomas, developed in the breast. However, in those cases in which RANK was genetically inhibited, carcinomas were not found in a single mouse, and malignant changes took place much less frequently.
In order to determine the relevance of their results for human beings, the scientists in Vienna along with researchers at the Medical University of Vienna and researchers from Toronto isolated breast tissue cells from women who had undergone preventive mastectomy because of their BRCAI mutation. After RANK was inhibited, a significant reduction of growth and spreading of breast tissue cells was observed in the human cell culture. This observation confirmed the enormous potential of an anti-RANK treatment in preventing cancer in human beings.
Preventive intake of drugs could prevent amputations
"Our finding is so exciting because there is already an approved drug on the market against RANKL, called Denosumab. It is an antibody with very few side effects, which binds tightly to RANKL and thus inhibits its ability to act”, said Verena Sigl. At present, the drug is prescribed for treating bone metastases and osteoporosis. Following the discovery made by Ms. Digl, it could be used for breast cancer prevention in the case of BRCA1 mutation carriers. From this vantage point, serious interventions such as breast amputations could be avoided.
The present work is the result of international collaboration. Scientists from Austria (IMBA, Vienna General Hospital) participated as well as researchers from Baltimore, Toronto, Canada and Barcelona.
Service: The research collaboration on the Internet: http://apps.ccge.medschl.cam.ac.uk/consortia/cimba/