January 15, 2007—Researchers at Dartmouth Medical School (DMS of Hanover, NH) demonstrate in today’s issue of Cancer Research that the structural protein nestin can be used to indicate aggressive basal epithelial breast cancer, which lacks molecular targets such as the estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor and Her2.

“This type of breast cancer is generally difficult to manage, but several important studies have shown that it is more likely than other breast cancer subtypes to respond to certain types of therapy, which highlights the need for a definitive diagnostic marker,” said James DiRenzo, PhD, assistant professor at DMS.

In a retrospective study of breast cancer tumors lacking estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors and Her2, DiRenzo and colleagues found high levels of nestin in 14 of 16 tumor samples studied. Nestin is a filamentous protein thought to help stabilize the structure of adult stem cells as they regenerate and divide into daughter cells.

DiRenzo says the next step is to find an efficient way to screen for the presence of nestin; a blood test is an unlikely candidate, but a non-invasive test that collects samples from mammary ducts shows promise.

Basal epithelial breast cancer represents 17% to 37% of all breast cancers; it is often characterized by an early age of onset and a very short time between treatment and relapse.

—Cat Vasko