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The study, published in the scientific journal Nature, has uncovered a genetic vulnerability present in nearly 10% of all breast cancer tumours, and found a way to target this vulnerability and selectively kill cancer cells.

Digital 3d illustration of cancer cells in human body

Each year, over five thousand newly diagnosed cases of breast cancer in the UK alone will carry this particular genetic fault, a proportion roughly double that driven by hereditary mutations such as those in the well-known BRCA genes.

A University of Oxford team of scientists led by Professor Ross Chapman (MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine) working together with researchers working at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, USA, discovered that cells originating from a specific subset of human breast cancer tumours, could be killed with a chemical that inhibits PLK4, an enzyme important for a specialized part of a cell called the centrosome. A cell’s centrosomes performs important functions during cell division, where it regulates the process in which copies of each chromosome are accurately segregated between two identical daughter cells. Normally, cells have safety mechanisms that protect them from losing their centrosomes. But the researchers discovered that these breast cancer cells could not survive without centrosomes.

The full story is available on the MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine website

The story is also featured on the University of Oxford website