BU researchers identify a new, more precise target for breast cancer

A new biomarker for lethal cases of basal-like breast cancer (BLBC) could provide a new and more precise target for cancer drug developers. Researchers at Boston University say they found that a molecule named IL13RA2 (IL13R alpha2) is found clustered on the surface of BLBC cells among late-stage and metastatic cases, when the disease is almost impossible to slow down.

By targeting IL13RA2 expression in models of the disease, the investigators say they were able to slow tumor growth and apply the brakes to metastasis to the lungs. And that helps validate the new drug target. The biomarker could be predictive of progression-free survival in patients.

"This discovery offers a glimmer of hope for patients stricken with BLBC. Personalized cancer therapies could be developed by targeting breast cancer cells that express copious levels of IL13RA2," explained corresponding author Sam Thiagalingam, an associate professor of genetics & genomics, medicine and pathology & laboratory medicine at BU's School of Medicine.

Late-stage BLBC, the researchers add, is often referred to as "triple-negative," meaning it won't respond to available therapies. Brain, pancreatic, ovarian, and colonic cancers also can have high levels of IL13RA2, making this particular biomarker attractive to a broad field of investigators in oncology.

BLBC typically attacks women under the age of 40 as well as African-American women. Their study appears online in Breast Cancer Research.

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