Big Data May Advance Breast Cancer Treatment


Researchers create a map of breast cancer cell shapes and genes that is linked to outcomes.

In a new study published by Genome Research, the authors successfully mapped the shape of breast cancer cells to genes, and matched it to disease outcomes. This map could assist physicians in choosing a treatment plan for patients with breast cancer.

The investigators used expansive datasets to create networks between cell shape and genes. Overall, they examined more than 300,000 breast cancer cells and 28,000 different genes.

The study authors discovered that changes in cell shape due to physical pressure lead to alterations in gene activity. Upon further analysis, the researchers found that these alterations are also linked to patient outcomes.

Additionally, areas within the network that act as a hub for information were discovered. These areas were observed to control the expression of many other genes, according to the study.

The investigators found that NF-kappaB is a central protein involved with the network, and could promote proliferation and metastasis of cancer cells. This was linked to cancer stage, and may be used to predict survival outcomes in patients with breast cancer.

This finding is significant because NF-kappaB is rarely faulty in solid cancers, so the surrounding forces are suggested to be heavily involved with disease progression by switching the gene on, according to the study.

“Our study reveals an exciting link between the forces that act on cancer cells and the development of the disease,” said lead researcher Chris Bakal, PhD. “We used ‘big data’ approaches to carry out a complex analysis that would once have taken decades, in a matter of months.”

Through this big data approach, the researchers were able to sift through hundreds of thousands of cancer cells and genes to determine their associations.

“The maps we’ve created of cell shapes and their effects on gene activity provide important pointers to new forms of cancer treatment, and ways of making existing therapies more effective,” Dr Bakal said.

This map could be used by physicians in the future to determine the treatment option that has led to the highest survival rate in patients with similar cancers. It could also provide insight for both the patient and the physician about the nature of the disease.

“Understanding the links between how a breast cancer looks and acts, alongside its genetic makeup, will help researchers develop a more detailed picture of the disease,” said researcher Karen Vousden, PhD. “The insights and approaches used in this research could one day lead to us being able to tell from appearance, how aggressive someone's cancer is and how likely to spread, helping doctors decide the best course of treatment.”

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