Scottish researchers have pinpointed the role of a gene causing the spread of an aggressive form of breast cancer. The culprit gene, belonging to HER2 group of coded proteins, is found to be overactive in women suffering from a form of breast cancer induced by the gene.

At least nine genes were found overactive in patients with HER2 positive breast cancer. The researchers homed in on one of these genes called C35. They found its role in promoting the movement of cancer cells across breast tissue and managed to tackle it through targeted therapies as part of lab experiments.

“With all cancers, the key is working out how they form and spread. Identifying this gene’s key role in the spread of this type of breast cancer is a significant finding. We are at an early stage, but there is now a real possibility there could be a new treatment for women with HER2 positive breast cancer,” says research leader Dr. Elad Katz from the University of Edinburgh.

The research team, whose findings were reported in the British Journal of Cancer, revealed that in test-tube experiments they had already halted the spread of tumour cells by targeting drugs at the gene.

Pharmaceutical companies are already developing drugs that can potentially kill cancer cells that rely on C35. These drugs achieve this by disabling a protein associated with the gene, which stops it from functioning.

Breast cancer is an extremely complex disease and the exact causes of the disease are yet to be known. However, identification of the role of the C35 gene is a helpful step, experts said. HER2 positive breast cancer patients would welcome any new research which has the potential to provide an additional treatment in the future.

As many as 800 women in Scotland and 9000 across the UK are diagnosed with HER2 positive breast cancer every year – about 20% of all cases.