New Komen Tissue Bank Report Sheds Light on the Spread of Breast Cancer

New report using normal breast tissue from the Komen Tissue Bank reveals key gene expression changes in “normal” adjacent tissue.

Guest blog by Margaret Flowers, Susan G. Komen for the Cure Scientific Grants Manager

Another highlight from the most recent San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium was a presentation from Dr. Susan Clare, co-principal investigator of the Komen Tissue Bank, that could have significant impact on the way we detect and treat recurrence of breast cancer.  It’s an example of how research funding into unique projects from Susan G. Komen is helping to increase our knowledge of how breast cancer forms and spreads, as we seek ways to stop it.

The study was the first of its kind comparing DNA in tissue near a primary breast tumor with normal tissues from cancer-free donors.  Dr. Clare’s study confirms that pre-malignant transformation is already taking place at the DNA level in nearby tissues, even before a recurrence can be detected, allowing doctors to potentially identify high-risk areas for a return of the cancer.

These early changes included increases in levels of genes that are known to promote tumor cell survival and growth, and decreases in genes that regulate normal cell death processes and prevent cells from becoming malignant.

A separate but related study also presented at SABCS by Susan Clare with Komen Co-Chief Scientific Advisor George Sledge and others further demonstrated that tissue adjacent to the primary tumor clearly mimics the gene expression of the primary tumor. In this study of triple negative breast cancers, the investigators also found significant changes in the normal adjacent tissue when compared to tissue from healthy volunteers obtained through the Komen Tissue Bank.

Together, these findings may have a significant clinical impact on future breast cancer care and management as well as personalized medicine in the prevention of recurrence.

I was particularly excited about these studies because they validate the Susan G. Komen Tissue Bank at Indiana University as a valuable resource in breast cancer research, especially as it expands our knowledge into how tumors develop and metastasize.

As a trained scientist and now Science Manager for a Komen research grants portfolio, I am well aware of the longstanding need for a source of normal breast tissue that can be used in studies of breast tumor biology.

Most studies to date have relied on tissue from breast reduction surgery or unaffected tissue outside of the margin of the primary breast tumor as “normal” controls for comparison to the tumor. While the scientific community widely recognizes that neither tissue is an ideal sample of normal tissue, there has been limited access to “truly normal” breast tissue.

The Tissue Bank helps to solve that problem.  It was created and continues to be maintained and operated by dedicated clinical researchers and patient advocates with more than $7 million in support from Susan G. Komen for the Cure.  It is the only repository in the world for normal breast tissue, and so far has collected well over 1,000 healthy breast tissue samples that are shared with researchers around the world.

The Tissue Bank couldn’t exist without the selfless donations of tissue from women eager to participate in our mission to end breast cancer.  Won’t you be one of them?  Visit the KTB website at http://komentissuebank.iu.edu/ for more information and read about my colleague Kendall Bergman’s donor experience in this blog archive at http://blog.komen.org/?p=995.

About the author

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Susan G. Komen has written 281 articles for Susan G. Komen® | Blog

Nancy G. Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer forever. In 1982, that promise became Susan G. Komen and launched the global breast cancer movement. Today, Komen is the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures. Thanks to events like the Komen Race for the Cure®, we have invested more than $1.9 billion to fulfill our promise, becoming the largest source of nonprofit funds dedicated to the fight against breast cancer in the world.