• Otávio Santiago

New Therapy Targets Aggressive Chemotherapy-Resistant Breast Cancer


One of the hardest cancers to treat are tumors in the breast that do not express receptors for estrogen, progesterone, and human epidermal growth factor, dubbed triple negative breast cancers (TNBCs). Nearly 15% of all breast cancers diagnosed are TNBC. Resistant to conventional chemotherapy, TNBC is closely associated with relapse progression to stage 4 of the disease where the tumor metastasizes.


“Triple negative breast cancer is particularly challenging to treat because of the limited options beyond chemotherapy. There are fewer targeted therapies compared to other types of breast cancer. Many triple negative breast cancers also do not respond completely to our best chemotherapies for reasons that we are still trying to understand fully but cancer stem cells play an important role in this resistance,” says Hanna Irie, MD, PhD, associate professor of Medicine, Hematology and Medical Oncology, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.


Earlier studies show breast cancer stem cells (BCSCs) are responsible for the initiation, progression and spread of TNBCs and contribute to resistance to chemotherapy. Therapies that eliminate these stem cells could therefore improve outcomes for high-risk patients, potentially leading to complete remission.


“Cancer stem cells are relatively quiescent and proliferate more slowly compared to non-stem cell cancer cells. Therefore, they escape the effects of chemotherapy, many of which rely on cell division to work, and persist. Cancer stem cells also have ways to pump out chemotherapy drugs. Cancer stem cells also have ways to avoid recognition by immune cells, which can compromise immunotherapies,” explains Irie.


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