Breast Cancer Stem Cells

Gene Expression and Mutation Profiles in Breast Cancer Stem Cells

Principal Investigator: SuEllen Pommier, Ph.D.

What is the purpose of this study?

This study moves us closer toward understanding how breast cancer begins. Our research and that of others shows that breast cancer likely starts in normal breast stem cells.  It is thought that normal breast stem cells are responsible for the normal development of breast tissue. When the genetic material (DNA) of normal breast stem cells becomes damaged, these cells are changed into breast cancer stem cells. Because stem cells are quite powerful, a defective stem cell, called a cancer stem cell, is a serious disease threat. Therefore, as a strong step towards a cure we must determine the genetic defects that change normal breast stem cells into breast cancer stem cells. This study will try to achieve that that goal.

Why do this study?

The genetic differences between normal and cancer stem/progenitor cells that are identified in this study will be used to make a catalog of abnormalities that are found in cancer stem cells. Other cancer stem cells can then be studied to see if they have similar abnormalities. From this information, scientists can determine how breast cancer begins and how to develop medications that will cure this disease.

Who will be included?

Women who are planning to undergo an operation to remove cancer in the breast or an operation to reduce the size of their breasts will be recruited.

What is involved?

For this study, breast tissue specimens will be obtained from women undergoing reduction mammoplasty, with no previous history of breast cancer and from women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Samples for this study will be obtained at the time of the operation. For cancer patients samples will be collected at the time of the mastectomy or lumpectomy, prior to any neoadjuvant chemotherapy, hormonal therapy or radiation treatment. No additional tissue will be removed for this study that would not have been removed during a   lumpectomy, mastectomy or breast reduction surgery.

The size of the tissue samples that will be collected during operation and used in this study will be about the size of a sugar cube. In the laboratory, breast stem cells will be removed from the tissues and the genetic material collected. Using molecular tests, scientists will examine genes in the stem cells that are known to be involved in normal cell behavior and in cancer. From this study we will learn what makes normal stem cells different than cancer stem cells.