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Researchers have furthered our understanding of how the biological clock affects breast cancer

Researchers funded by us have further uncovered how the biological clock affects breast cancer growing and spreading. This new knowledge could help us find new and better ways to treat the disease.

How the body keeps its rhythm

The internal biological clock allows cells in the body to time important processes, such as growth and repair, to a 24-hour day.

In some cancer cells, this inner clock can be disrupted. So, professor Qing-Jun Meng from the University of Manchester set out to explore the way the biological clock influences the progression of breast cancer.

Qing-Jun Meng
Professor Qing-Jun Meng at the University of Manchester

Understanding the biological clock in breast cancer

Studying the inner clock in breast cancer can be difficult. That’s because it isn’t safe or practical to take repeated biopsies and multiple samples over time from people with breast cancer.

To overcome this, Qing-Jun and his team used artificial intelligence (AI) and a small number of time-stamped samples to analyse data from hundreds of people.

Using this technique, they found different genes that were timed to the biological clock, including genes related to cell spread.

Subtypes respond in different ways

The researchers also discovered that different subtypes of breast cancer responded differently to the biological clock.

ER-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer cells generally maintained a 24-hour rhythm, but how strongly the cells followed the biological clock varied significantly between people.

Looking into it further, they found that people with ER-positive HER2-negative breast cancer whose tumours strongly adhered to a biological clock had lower survival rates.

In lab experiments, Qing-Jun also found that ER-positive HER2-negative breast cancer cells were less aggressive when their biological clock was disrupted.

Looking ahead

The team hope that these findings could be the foundation for new and better ways to treat breast cancer. For example, by improving the timing of existing treatments.

This study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America and funded by the National Cancer Institute, Breast Cancer Now, and the Wellcome Centre for Cell-Matrix Research.

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