Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory hope to find new ways to treat so called "triple-negative" breast cancer as a result of an $8.6 million study.
Medicines can slow or stop most breast cancer growth by targeting estrogen, progesterone or human epidermal growth factor receptors in the cancerous cells, said Karin Rodland, chief scientist and biomedical researcher at PNNL.
But triple-negative breast cancer doesn't respond to any of the three hormones. The research, funded by the Department of Defense, could lead to new ways to diagnose and treat triple-negative breast cancer, which makes up 10 to 20 percent of breast cancer cases, according to a 2012 report from the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation.
During the preliminary stages of the research, Rodland and a team of six others will create a catalog of proteins present in 300 tumor and blood samples gathered by the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
Cells with hyperactive protein production grow and divide at an accelerated rate, becoming cancerous. If scientists can understand the mechanisms responsible for the rapid protein growth in these cells, they might be able to shut them down.
But each sample -- the size of a small drop of water -- can have as many as 6,000 different proteins, Rodland said, so the research team won't finish analyzing the samples until August.
During that time, the researchers also will re-create the cell tissues in their labs, trying to identify methods of slowing or stopping the cell growth.
If any methods prove effective, they can be tested on the tumors themselves, which are frozen in liquid nitrogen at Windber Research Institute in Windber, Pa.
The researchers also will look for ways to identify the cancerous proteins in blood samples so doctors have a method to diagnose the cancer because it is hard to detect with mammograms.
Windber Research Institute also will analyze the DNA and RNA of the samples, while Walter Reed researches methods of diagnosing triple-negative breast cancer.