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Susana Garcia-Recio and Charles Perou
UNC Lineberger’s Susana Garcia-Recio, PhD, and Charles M. Perou, PhD.

A study by University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers provides an important insight into why a certain type of breast cancer changes at the molecular level after it has spread, or metastasized.

In preliminary findings presented at the 2018 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, researchers reported they found increased expression of the gene FGFR4 in metastatic breast cancer tumors. They believe this gene may be responsible for driving molecular changes in the breast cancer subtype known as luminal A, and could help them potentially develop better treatments for metastatic breast cancer patients.

“Our research focused on this new target FGFR4, which could offer novel therapeutic opportunity for metastatic breast cancer patients,” said UNC Lineberger’s Charles M. Perou, PhD, the May Goldman Shaw Distinguished Professor Molecular Oncology and professor of Genetics and of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine. “We now plan to design new studies based upon these findings.”

The researchers discovered that when the luminal A breast cancer subtype metastasizes, it sometimes changes to show characteristics of the more aggressive HER2-enriched subtype. They found evidence to show that changes in expression in the FGFR4 gene may be responsible.

“Usually the subtype is maintained between the primary and metastases, except in some cases, where luminal cancers undergo a change,” said the study’s first author Susana Garcia-Recio, PhD, postdoctoral researcher at UNC Lineberger. “It looks like some luminal tumors become HER2-enriched during metastases. There are some genes responsible for these changes that could be potentially targeted in metastatic patients.”