New lab study reveals how breast cancer drug can accelerate cancer cell growth
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IMAGE: Researchers found in the lab that lapatinib causes HER2 and HER3 to form pairs on cell membranes, priming them in an inactive state (left) so that when growth factors are… view more 

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The breast cancer drug lapatinib which is designed to shrink tumours can sometimes cause them to grow in the lab, according to a new study published in eLife. By understanding the molecular basis of this phenomenon, scientists hope that their findings will lead to safer treatment decision-making and drug design in the future.

Lapatinib is used in combination with other cancer drugs and chemotherapy to treat patients with a particular type of advanced breast cancer, but failed clinical trials as a stand-alone treatment.

Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute, King’s College London and Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University of London, have shown that lapatinib itself can actually cause breast cancer cells to grow more rapidly in some situations, which might explain the disappointing outcome of the clinical trials.

Lead author of the paper, Dr Jeroen Claus from the Francis Crick Institute, said: “If certain breast cancer drugs can cause cancer cells to grow more rapidly in particular circumstances in the lab, we need to evaluate carefully

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