The fight against breast cancer has been long, challenging, and persistent. As of January 2022, about 3.8 million women have a history of breast cancer in the United States. Although death rates have declined by 43 percent through 2020, researchers and innovators are actively seeking more comprehensive screening, diagnostic exams, and treatment options to push back against breast cancer.
What’s New in Breast Cancer Research?
Since 2022, the arsenal against breast cancer has expanded rapidly, offering patients new hope and promise for a brighter, less daunting tomorrow. Below, we are spotlighting the most recent breast cancer research breakthroughs that may improve patient outcomes, ultimately saving more lives in 2023 and beyond.
Scientists at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have identified a novel protein, known as GIT1, that can become breast cancer’s ally or foe depending on how high its presence is in the body. According to the researchers of a recent experiment, higher levels of GIT1 obstruct tumor growth. Meanwhile, lower levels of the protein facilitated tumor growth. Zhang, Miyakawa, and their co-researchers concluded that breast cancer patients with high levels of GIT1 had more favorable outcomes than those with lower levels.
Further analyses conducted in mice carrying human-derived tumors confirmed that the overexpression of GIT1 reduced tumor development. This promising discovery suggests that GIT1 could potentially serve as a biomarker in ER(-) breast cancer cases, leading to innovative therapies for patients with late-stage, challenging-to-treat breast cancer. The potential impact of this research offers hope for those who have been living with this devastating disease.
2. Fam-trastuzumab deruxtecan-nxki (Enhertu, Daiichi Sankyo, Inc.)
Dr. Shanu Modi of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center led a groundbreaking clinical trial in 2022, which Daiichi Sankyo and AstraZeneca sponsored. Modi et al. yielded promising results in treating individuals with HER2-low breast cancer. In the trial, the drug trastuzumab deruxtecan demonstrated no tumor growth in approximately two-thirds of the 557 HER2-low patients with stage IV or metastatic breast cancer for a duration of ten months, compared to only five months for those undergoing conventional chemotherapy.
The FDA approved trastuzumab deruxtecan for treating HER2-positive breast cancer that same year, although its ability to address symptoms related to HER2-low breast cancer is more substantial. Previously, drugs for such cancers had failed in HER2-low patients, leading to a lack of optimism about their efficacy in this group. However, the trial’s results have been so positive that Dr. Eric Winer, director of the Yale Cancer Center and head of ASCO, has suggested that trastuzumab deruxtecan may become a new standard of care for treating cancer.
“The results of these trials represent significant progress toward this goal [addressing cancer in HER2-positive patients], including the first evidence from a clinical trial of a targeted agent that can improve survival for patients with HER2-positive breast cancer that has metastasized to the brain,” said Dr. Winer.
3. Portable ultrasound system
Early detection of cancer is a fundamental factor in successful treatment. Imaging devices and modalities also play a role in ensuring accurate diagnosis and continuous care. iSono Health, a healthcare technology company, recently introduced the ATUSA ultrasound system, which the FDA cleared for personalized breast imaging. iSono Health’s goal is to offer patients a compact, automated whole breast ultrasound system that can deliver high-quality screening without requiring expert operators.
The iSono Health system employs 3D ultrasound scanning and machine learning capabilities to provide physicians with insightful data, enabling them to make more informed clinical decisions moving forward. Co-founder and CEO, Maryam Ziaei, Ph.D., believes that this technology can revolutionize breast imaging and facilitate earlier detection and treatment, ultimately reducing death rates.
4. mRNA vaccine for breast cancer
The scientific advancements behind COVID-19 vaccines have led to a potential breakthrough in breast cancer treatment. Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast are utilizing messenger RNA (mRNA) to target breast cancer cells with high levels of the p53 protein, which is known to mutate and cause triple-negative breast cancer. Unfortunately, this type of breast cancer is more prone to recurrence or metastasis during the initial years of successful treatment. The p53 protein is also present in many other cancer types, suggesting that this discovery may have broader applications in cancer treatment.
Related: Can Vaccines Control Breast Cancer?
5. Liquid biopsy
Scientists at the USC Michelson Convergent Science Institute in Cancer have developed a cutting-edge method for detecting breast cancer in its early stages. According to researchers, mammograms and tissue biopsies may become outdated, as “liquid biopsy” is the future of cancer detection. By analyzing blood samples from 100 breast cancer patients and 30 healthy donors, clinical researchers identified five biomarkers that could distinguish between early- and late-stage cancer, as well as healthy individuals. This technology has the potential to improve the way we diagnose and treat breast cancer in the next few years.
The above study determined that healthcare providers can identify rare cancer cells lurking in the bloodstream with more precision and consistency. By detecting these circulating tumor cells (CTCs), medical professionals can diagnose a breast malignancy in its earliest stage, when it is less challenging to treat and tumor regression is easier to achieve.
Through the detection of various biomarkers in a simple blood draw, this approach could become an effective way to diagnose not just breast cancer, but also other types of cancer. And, with the results of early clinical trials showing promise, cancer detection’s future seems brighter than ever.
2022 was the year of breast cancer research breakthroughs. Researchers from around the world demonstrated why they are some of the best in the field, discovering developments that will reshape the way we diagnose and address breast cancer. From a protein that inhibits breast cancer growth; a drug that blocks tumor expansion in HER2-low patients; a portable ultrasound system that visualizes the breast tissue in 3D; a vaccine that may eliminate cancer cells; and a blood test that detects breast cancer biomarkers – we have indeed come a long way.
For more game-changing discoveries in breast cancer research, keep an eye out for part two of our article. We have only scratched the surface of the exciting new developments restructuring the way we comprehend, diagnose, and treat breast cancers. From state-of-the-art imaging technologies to less invasive remedies, we have much to explore and discuss.