‘Like Finding Gold in Trafalgar Square’: Gene Breakthrough

The finding could lead to new ways to treat and prevent hormonal breast cancer, which is diagnosed in 37,000 women in the UK each year, and accounts for four out of five of all breast tumours. The results are published today online in the journal PloS Genetics.

The team was astonished because the genes were found directly next to the oestrogen receptor gene, the main driver of hormonal breast cancer. The oestrogen receptor has been intensively studied by scientists for decades and is located in one of the most well-studied areas of the genome.

Study author Dr Anita Dunbier, from the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London, said: “This is a surprising discovery. We found these genes in a place we thought we knew a lot about – it is like finding gold in Trafalgar Square.

“We now have to look further at how these genes work, but the discovery could lead to possible new therapies that will benefit women with breast cancer in the future.”

Dr Dunbier and her colleagues studied 104 patients with hormonal, also known as oestrogen receptor (ER) positive, breast cancer. They wanted to find the genes that were most closely linked to the oestrogen receptor.

The three genes identified were C6ORF96, C6ORF97 and C6ORF211. All three were found to be linked to the oestrogen receptor but working separately from it. As a result, their activity is unlikely to be affected by current treatments, such as tamoxifen, which target the oestrogen receptor. This could mean that they are potential targets for new drug treatments.

C6ORF211 was shown to drive the growth of tumours and the team sees this as the most likely target for new treatments. C6ORF97 was shown to be an indicator of a tumour not coming back, and also a good predictor of response to tamoxifen. Less is known about C6ORF96, but it is being researched by the team.

Professor Mitch Dowsett, who leads the team at the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre at the ICR, said: “This research is exciting because it shows that while the oestrogen receptor is the main driver of hormonal breast cancer, there are others next door to it that also appear to influence breast cancer behaviour. We now need to better understand how they work together and how we can utilise them to save lives of women with breast cancer.”


Media Contact: Richard Purnell in the Breakthrough Breast Cancer press office on 020 7025 0290


Notes to editors:


Breast Cancer

  • Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK – nearly 48,000 women and around 300 men are diagnosed every year
  • One in eight women in the UK will develop breast cancer at some point in their lifetime
  • The good news is that more women than ever in the UK are surviving breast cancer thanks to better awareness, better treatments and better screening


Breakthrough Breast Cancer

  • Breakthrough Breast Cancer is a pioneering charity dedicated to the prevention, treatment and ultimate eradication of breast cancer fighting on three fronts: research, campaigning and education. 
  • Breakthrough Breast Cancer funds ground-breaking research, campaign for better services and treatments and raise awareness of breast cancer.  Through this work the charity believes passionately that breast cancer can be beaten and the fear of the disease removed for good. Find more information at www.breakthrough.org.uk


The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR)

  • The ICR is Europe’s leading cancer research centre
  • The ICR has been ranked the UK’s top academic research centre, based on the results of the Higher Education Funding Council’s Research Assessment Exercise
  • The ICR works closely with partner The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust to ensure patients immediately benefit from new research. Together the two organisations form the largest comprehensive cancer centre in Europe
  • The ICR has charitable status and relies on voluntary income, spending at least 90 pence in every pound of total income directly on research
  • As a college of the University of London, the ICR also provides postgraduate higher education of international distinction
  • Over its 100-year history, the ICR’s achievements include identifying the potential link between smoking and lung cancer which was subsequently confirmed, discovering that DNA damage is the basic cause of cancer and isolating more cancer-related genes than any other organisation in the world

For more information visit www.icr.ac.uk