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Researchers Discover How Breast Cancer Mutation in BRCA1 Causes Protein to Self-Destruct

Of the more than 3 million people with breast cancer in the United Stated, about 10 percent carry an inherited mutation in their BRCA1 gene. In health, the gene is responsible for suppressing tumors. In disease, the gene goes terribly awry.

Scientists at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute found that breast cancer cells can trigger the self-destruction of the tumor-suppressing BRCA1 proteins. They published their results in the journal Scientific Reports.

"There are different ways in which DNA damage can be repaired. The breast cancer susceptibility protein, BRCA1, has an interesting mechanism as a tumor suppressor," said Deborah Kelly, an assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and senior author on the paper. "Unfortunately, where there are mutations in BRCA1, there's a significant decrease in its ability to repair DNA and cells are more likely to become cancerous."

Scientists knew the mutations promoted cancer, but they didn't know exactly how BRCA1 physically changed, or how those changes prevented the protein from participating in DNA repair.

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