Bone drug could help prevent breast cancer in BRCA1 carriers

Blocking RANK ligand with denosumab reduced proliferation of breast cells from women at high genetic risk of breast cancer.

Breast cancer researchers (from left) Professor Geoff Lindeman, PhD student Ms Emma Nolan and Professor Jane Visvader

Women carrying a BRCA1 gene mutation are at high risk of breast cancer. Mastectomy is often used as prevention, making alternative strategies highly desirable. 

Reporting in Nature Medicine (online, 20 June 2016)[1]
, researchers in Australia found a cell-signalling pathway involving the receptor activator of nuclear factor kappa-B (RANK) protein increases breast cell proliferation and could be involved in breast tumour formation in women with BRCA1 mutations. 

Blocking RANK ligand with denosumab, normally used to treat cancer-related bone problems or osteoporosis, reduced proliferation of breast cells grown in the laboratory and also in biopsies taken from women with BRCA1 mutations after treatment with denosumab. Furthermore, a RANK ligand inhibitor reduced formation of breast tumours in a mouse model. 

The researchers conclude that blocking RANK is a promising strategy for preventing breast cancer in women at high genetic risk.


[1] Nolan E, Vaillant F, Branstetter D et al. RANK ligand as a potential target for breast cancer prevention in BRCA1 mutation carriers. Nature Medicine 2016. doi: 10.1038/nm.4118

Last updated
Clinical Pharmacist, CP, August 2016, Vol 8, No 8;8(8):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2016.20201346

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