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Tip Sheet

Not for publication

June 9, 2004 -- No. 311

New aggressive breast tumor subtype identified at UNC; discovery opens door to more targeted treatment

Dr. Charles Perou, assistant professor of genetics and pathology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hillís School of Medicine, has discovered a biologically distinct subtype of aggressive breast tumor.

He presents his findings Monday (June 14) at the annual meeting of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in Boston.

This subtype of estrogen-receptor-negative tumor lacks the only two defined targets for chemotherapy (estrogen receptor and HER2 protein). Thus, the roughly 15 percent of women with this type of breast cancer have a poorer prognosis than women with other forms of the disease.

Physicians have for some time recognized the existence of two types of estrogen-receptor-negative tumors, those with receptors for the HER2 protein and those without it, said Perou, also a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

"But, it was like looking at a building from the outside," he said. "Identifying the patterns of literally hundreds of genes and the proteins they represent lets us walk inside the building and see whatís there Ė and exactly where we could intervene with a treatment."

Perouís lab is known for its use of genomic approaches to classify human tumors and to understand pathways altered within each tumor subtype.  He then works to implement these findings into standard clinical practice.

In earlier work reported in 2000, Perou and colleagues also discovered a previously unsuspected biologically distinct subtype of estrogen-positive breast tumor with a poor outcome. That research, Perou said, does much to explain why a small percentage of estrogen-positive tumors do not have a good outcome.

The ability to classify tumors into subtypes is made possible by microarray analysis, a technique pioneered by Perou allowing scientists to examine vast numbers of genes simultaneously.

Perou is available for interview through Friday (June 11) and after Monday at (919) 843-5740 or cperou@med.unc.edu. Beginning Saturday (June 12), contact Sylvia Wrobel at (617) 954-2844 to schedule an interview with Perou at the meeting in Boston prior to his presentation.

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Lineberger Center contact: Dianne Shaw, (919) 966-7834 or dgs@med.unc.edu
School of Medicine contact: Les Lang, (919) 843-9687 or llang@med.unc.edu