New breast cancer findings at Penn State College of Medicine

It is estimated that one in every eight women in the United States will develop breast cancer.

Researchers at the Penn State Hershey School of Medicine say they have made a big discovery that may lead to better treatment.

To understand it, think of cancer cells like weeds in a garden.

“People usually think about it that these individual weeds are battling with each other to over take the garden,” said Dr. Edward Gunther, the lead researcher. “Instead, what we found in our work is these individual weeds are actually cooperating with each other. These sub-populations are cooperating with each other in order to drive the cancer growth.”

Researchers discovered that if they can break up that cooperation, the tumor degenerates. So far, it has only been done in mice.

“So, an important next step is to find out if that happens in human breast cancer and we have reason to believe that’s likely,” said Gunther. “If we can find similar modes of cooperation in human breast cancers that’s a new therapeutic target that we can aim to disrupt with drugs.”

Their research is so groundbreaking it landed on the cover of Nature magazine.

“It’s like getting the cover story if you’re a great athlete in Sports Illustrated. And to be the cover story of Nature Magazine is that big a deal to scientists,” said Warren Gittlen, president of the Jake Gittlen Cancer Research Foundation, which raises money for cancer research.

“It’s really satisfying when we’re able to see the end result and find something that might have value for patients,” Gunther said.

Scientists said this theory may not only apply to breast cancer. They believe the same may be true for all types of cancer.

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