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UW doctors make breakthrough in breast cancer research

By Jennifer Hoff,
Published On: Jan 23 2014 08:19:24 PM CST

Doctors at the University of Wisconsin have made a major breakthrough in breast cancer research by identifying how the cancers spread to the brain.

UW Dr. Vincent Cryns is a cancer expert who studies breast cancers that spread to the brain.

“It has a very grim prognosis and there are few treatment options,” Cryns said.

Most patients die within a year of their diagnosis, but that could change because of Cryns’ discovery.

“We’ve been interested in this protein for more than 10 years,” Cryns said.

He calls the protein Alpha-b-crystalli, and his team recently found that breast cancer cells use it to stick to and break through the brain’s blood barrier. The cancer cells grow inside the brain undetected.

“We now have a target and that’s a big advance,” Cryns said.

The scientists’ next step is to find a drug to stop the protein’s effects.

“The discovery of a new drug, testing it in animals and then in people – it takes a long time, but we do have some interesting leads right now in the laboratory,” Cryns said.

Cryns said being featured in a top medical journal drives his experiments, which he hopes will lead to earlier diagnosis and longer lives.

“We’re always thinking about how the experiments we’re doing in the lab can impact lives of women with breast cancer,” Cryns said.

The protein could also help doctors predict who is more at risk of having their breast cancer spread to the brain.

Cryns' research is partially funded by grants from the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

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