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A team of breast cancer experts from the University of Miami‘s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center has taken part in an international multi-center study of breast tumors that could help researchers develop more targeted therapies for breast cancer patients. The findings, “Comprehensive Molecular Portraits of Human Breast Tumors,” are published in Nature.

Since 2010, Sylvester’s Tissue Bank Core Facility has been part of the Cancer Genome Atlas Program, a national initiative established by the National Institutes of Health to generate maps of key genomic changes in many types of cancer. The goal of the five-year program is to build a resource for research aimed at developing better strategies for diagnosing, treating and preventing each type of cancer.

In the study, Carmen Gomez-Fernandez, M.D., professor of pathology, and Sophie Egea, Ph.D., Core Director of the Tissue Bank Core Facility at Sylvester, provided breast tumor tissue for the analysis conducted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The researchers analyzed primary breast cancers by a variety of DNA and microRNA sequencing and analysis, demonstrating the existence of four main breast cancer classes, each of which shows significant differences in their molecular make-up. Two novel protein expression-defined subgroups were identified, in addition to specific signaling pathways that were dominant in each molecular subtype. A comparison of Basal-like breast tumors with high-grade serous ovarian tumors showed many commonalities, suggesting similar therapeutic opportunities.

Scientists hypothesize that because the four main breast cancer subtypes are caused by different subsets of genetic and epigenetic abnormalities, much of the heterogeneity occurs within the major subtypes and not across them. “Discovering that these different pathways and molecular differences are special to each of the subtypes can help devise better therapies,” said Gomez.

The team of Sylvester breast cancer researchers and pathologists, which also included Mark Pegram, M.D., voluntary professor of medicine and member of Sylvester, was one of scores of scientists from the U.S., Europe and Asia that supplied tissue for analysis.

“We were able to participate in this seminal study,” said Egea, “because of the support of Sylvester in creating and sustaining the Tissue Bank Core Facility. We’re proud to have been part of this critical work.”

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