Japan Team Identifies Cell Causing Breast Cancer Recurrence

TOKYO (Jiji Press) — A Japan-led research team including Kanazawa University has identified a type of cell responsible for breast cancer recurrence and found that existing drugs may be effective in killing it.

The team, which recently published the study on the Journal of Clinical Investigation, an international academic journal, expects that its findings will contribute to the development of methods to prevent and eliminate breast cancer recurrence.

About one in nine Japanese women are said to develop breast cancer. The number of deaths from the cancer is on the rise.

The number of cases that can be cured has increased thanks to medical technology improvements. Meanwhile, there are some types of cancer on which no therapeutic effects can be expected from molecular target drugs, which are used widely.

The team examined such types of cancer, focusing on cells that remain after anticancer drug treatment before surgery and are known to be prone to recurrence and metastasis.

By concentrating patient-derived cells and examining them in detail, the team found cells that are similar to those developing into breast cancer and that have a large amount of a specific protein. The discovered cells were named “ancestor-like cancer stem cells.”

The team transplanted human ancestor-like cancer stem cells into mice and gave them a combination of an anticancer drug used in standard cancer treatment and an existing drug to treat heart failure that suppresses the function of the protein.

The stem cells disappeared after the administration of the combination of the two drugs, according to the team.

“We’ve managed to selectively attack cancer cells that cannot be eliminated with an anticancer drug. It’s revolutionary,” a team member said. “We want to see what other combinations are possible.”