Scientists have identified the role played by a gene in the spread of an aggressive breast cancer - a discovery which could lead to new treatments.
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The Edinburgh-based team has established the cancer cell-spreading role of the gene C35 in patients with HER2-positive breast cancer - which affects around 9,000 women in the UK.
This type of cancer, where the HER2 protein encourages the growth of cancer cells, is currently treated with the drug Herceptin.
The drug prevents cancer cells growing and multiplying by attaching itself to the protein.
The research, published online in the British Journal of Cancer, was carried out by a team at the University of Edinburgh.
By identifying the gene that causes cells to spread - and developing drugs to disable it - the scientists believe they have found a new way of halting the disease.
Research leader Dr Elad Katz, of the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Unit, said:
“For a long time we have been concentrating on the protein HER2 but now we have this gene that could well be responsible for the spread of the cancer.
“This is absolutely critical because what we know is that the spread of the cancer is what kills the patient. We are at an early stage but there is now a real possibility there could be a new treatment for women with HER2-positive breast cancer.”