Novel Gene Is Potential Therapeutic Target for Triple Negative Breast Cancer Interview with:
Dr. Pentao Liu PhD and Dr. Walid Khaled PhD
Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute
Cambridgeshire United Kingdom

Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Dr. Pentao Liu: The significance of this research is that it aims to tackle the worst type of breast cancer. Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC) has the poorest patient survival rate compared to other forms of breast cancer.  At present there are no targeted therapies available for TNBC, leaving the non-specific chemotherapy as the only treatment option. In this study we identify a new key gene in  Triple Negative Breast Cancer which could potentially be inhibited for the targeted treatment of TNBC.

In this study we report the identification of a novel gene for Triple Negative Breast Cancer. By analyzing genomics data from 3,000 patients we find BCL11A to be highly expressed in TNBC. We then demonstrate experimentally that upregulation of BCL11A drives tumour development while its downregulation leads to reduction in tumour size. In the experimental mouse model, inactivation of this gene completely abolishes breast tumour development.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Pentao Liu: There are two key messages from this study:

1) Our data suggest that BCL11A could serve as a new bio-marker for Triple Negative Breast Cancer.

2) Inhibiting BCL11A could provide a targeted therapeutic approach for the treatment of TNBC.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Pentao Liu: As this is a new discovery there are no approved tests currently available for this gene. In the future, we aim to expand our studies to assess the potential benefit of using this novel marker in diagnosing breast cancer. In addition, based on the results of this study, we will focus our efforts over the next few years to develop inhibitors/drugs to target BCL11A in TNBC.


Khaled, WT, Lee SC et al. (2015) BLC11A is a triple-negative breast cancer gene with critical functions in stem and progenitor cells. Nature Communications, published online in advance of print publication doi: 10.1038/ncomms6987

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