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U team discovers enzyme behind breast cancer mutations

Reuben Harris, Ph.D. (Photo: Scott Streble)

A Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota research team has uncovered a human enzyme responsible for causing DNA mutations found in most breast cancers. The discovery of this enzyme — called APOBEC3B — may change the way breast cancer is diagnosed and treated.

“Hopefully, [the discovery] will allow cancer researchers to develop new treatment approaches that can prevent these mutations before they become harmful,” says lead researcher Reuben Harris, Ph.D., associate professor of biochemistry, molecular biology, and biophysics and a member of the Masonic Cancer Center.

Previous HIV research conducted by Harris’s lab on APOBEC3 enzymes eventually led to the discovery that APOBEC3B is overexpressed in breast cancer cell lines and tumors.

“DNA mutations are absolutely essential for cancer development,” says Harris. “Our experiments showed the APOBEC3B enzyme causes mutations in the genome of breast cancer cells. From this, we were able to reasonably conclude that the APOBEC3B is a key influencer in breast cancer.”

If further studies confirm that finding, a simple blood test could result in early detection, says Harris, who is also looking for ways to block APOBEC3B from causing mutations.

The findings were published in the Feb. 6 online edition of Nature.

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