Back to the future: breast cancer reprises pathways found in fetal cells
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LA JOLLA–(August 7, 2018) Using just a microscope, Italian surgeon Francesco Durante was struck by the similarities between cells in the most malignant cancers and the embryonic cells of the organ in which the cancer originated.

More than a century later, scientists at the Salk Institute have uncovered a reason for the uncanny likeness: cells in human basal-like breast cancers share features with the embryonic mammary (breast) stem cells that are the progenitors of all cell types in the mammary gland (of a mouse). The insights leading to this conclusion are published in the journal Cell Reports on August 7, 2018.

“Durante was prescient,” says Professor Geoffrey Wahl, holder of the Daniel and Martina Lewis Chair and senior author of the work. “He anticipated the relatedness of cells in the embryo to those in malignant cancers–and that dormant cancer cells could be ‘reawakened’ by exposure to ‘persistent irritations’ that we now recognize as inflammation. We can use the insights gained from our work to develop better diagnostic and treatment strategies.”

For example, human breast cancers share some peculiar metabolic features with early embryonic mammary stem cells, which may be possible to target therapeutically. Additionally, proteins specifically expressed in the

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