U research could lead to breast cancer treatment

A team of 17 University of Minnesota researchers discovered an enzyme that causes mutations leading to breast cancer.

Rebecca Harrington


A University of Minnesota discovery published Wednesday could lead to breast cancer treatment.

University researchers, led by College of Biological Sciences professor Reuben Harris, discovered an enzyme that causes mutations leading to breast cancer, which could help find a treatment for the cancer.

“One can think about ways to stop it,” Harris said.

The study, published online in major scientific journal Nature on Wednesday, was the combination of five years of work and a team of 17 University co-authors.

Harris said the enzyme, APOBEC3B, causes up to half of all mutations in breast cancer.

Their discovery could lead to finding ways to stop the enzyme from mutating breast tumor cells by inhibiting the enzyme from being activated, or by stopping enzyme expression.

Michael Burns, lead author and CBS graduate student, said stopping the enzyme once it’s expressed would be more likely sooner. The best part about the finding, he said, is the next steps the research can take are to find a cure for breast cancer.

“Any good research finding automatically raises more questions,” he said.

Large amounts of data — like from the Cancer Genome Atlas — of cancer genes made public in the last several years made the research possible, Burns said. Researchers now know what mutations exist in cancers because of this data, but the problem, he said, is finding how they occur.

The next step for this research will be to find how this enzyme and the other 10 in its family mutate cancers, and which ones.

“A change in how we view cancer is definitely in the works,” Burns said.

For the full story, check out Thursday’s Minnesota Daily.