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Emerging Research: Targeted Treatments for Breast Cancer

Breast cancer outcomes and survival rates have vastly improved with targeted therapies. These treatments work by seeking out unique genetic variations that might appear in tumors but not in healthy tissue. Studies at Rush are finding more of these genetic differences, allowing researchers to tailor treatments for specific variations of breast cancer.

Abde Abukhdeir, PhD, is a breast cancer researcher at Rush whose work involves finding these genetic differences and what they mean for treatment. Genetic variability in the cells is responsible for different levels of drug resistance and aggressiveness of the cancer. But rarer are studied less often and in less depth.

“For those genes, we can only extrapolate which drugs to give to patients based on what we know about biology rather than specific scientific testing,” Abukhdeir said. “My team and I are looking at these genes more scientifically.”

PIK3CA, the most frequently mutated oncogene in breast cancer, is often the therapeutic target for the development of new drugs. Unfortunately, the 50 to 70 percent of breast cancer patients who do not carry mutated PIK3CA would not benefit from any of these new drugs. Recent discoveries from Abukhdeir and his team provide new hope in the development of targeted therapies for these kinds of patients, however.

Abukhdeir has identified several genes that are mutated at lower frequencies and are mutated when PIK3CA is not. Abukhdeir is testing existing FDA-approved drugs against these newly discovered genetic mutations to determine if these treatments offer any reliable therapeutic benefit. The benefit of testing existing FDA-approved drugs is that they have already been proven to be safe in treating other diseases. If any of these drugs demonstrate possible benefits for breast cancer in the laboratory, Abukhdeir will be able to quickly move them into human clinical trials. One drug in particular has demonstrated strong efficacy in fighting breast cancer cells in the lab; Rush is the only lab working with this drug as a possible treatment for breast cancer.

Thanks to the generosity of donors like Bears Care; The Brian Piccolo Cancer Research Fund; The Brinson Foundation; Sylvia E. Furner, PhD; Gavers Community Cancer Foundation; Beverly A. Guzy, EdD; the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Foundation; Mary Szela and David Friedman; and The Lynn Sage Foundation, Abukhdeir and his colleagues are able to pursue this work and explore other avenues of molecularly-based personalized breast cancer research.

To learn more about supporting breast cancer research at Rush, please contact Kristin Stewart at or (312) 942-3517.

Read on for more Rush philanthropy news.

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