ALBANY, N.Y. Nov. 1, 2005 —A research team at Albany Medical College has developed a synthetic compound with the same biological characteristics as alpha-fetoprotein, a pregnancy-associated molecule believed to be responsible for reducing the risk of breast cancer among mothers.
In recent laboratory tests, the synthetic peptide AFPep stopped the growth of human breast cancer cells implanted in immune deficient mice and it decreased the incidence of breast cancers in rats that had been injected with a chemical carcinogen. When combined with the currently used anti-breast cancer drug Tamoxifen, AFPep reduced the number of tumor-laden rats by 77 percent. AFPep alone yielded a 23 percent decrease in the cancer rate.
The results are preliminary and significant research remains to be done to demonstrate whether the substance could ultimately be used in humans to reduce the incidence of breast cancer in women, the researchers noted. But the findings of the Albany Medical College research team were judged to be significant enough to be accepted for presentation Tuesday, Nov. 1 at the “Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research” conference of the American Association for Cancer Research in Baltimore, MD.
“We are heartened by our results, which found that oral administration of AFPep is safe and effective for the treatment and prevention of breast cancer in these animal models,” said Thomas T. Andersen, Ph.D., professor in the Albany Medical College Center for Cardiovascular Sciences and principle investigator of the study. “We believe we are making strides to help protect all women from developing breast cancer, and hopefully someday extend and save the lives of those who do.”
“It has long been known that women who experience pregnancy are at lower risk of developing breast cancer later in life than women who were never pregnant,” said Dr. Andersen. “Our research is based on the theory that a molecule called alpha-fetoprotein, or AFP, which naturally occurs in women who have been pregnant, is a source of protection from breast cancer. Based on this discovery, we have developed a new drug called AFPep that has proven effective in both the prevention and treatment of breast cancer in lab models.”
The abstract that Dr. Andersen submitted was entitled, “A Peptide That Prevents Breast Cancer is Fully Active After Oral Administration: AFPep.” In his abstract, Dr. Andersen explains that AFPep is made of amino acids, the same molecules that exist in the naturally occurring AFP protein. It can be taken orally and has little or no toxicity. In addition to the prevention aspects, the drug has also been proven to inhibit the growth of breast cancers that have become resistant to Tamoxifen, a drug currently used in the treatment of breast cancers. At this point AFPep has only been tested in the lab. The next step will be clinical trials in humans.
Dr. Andersen’s research, which was done in collaboration with his colleagues at Albany Med, Dr. James Bennett and Dr. Herbert Jacobson, was selected as “newsworthy” by AACR from thousands of abstracts that were submitted to the organization from researchers across the country. The press conference entitled, “Latest Evidence about Lowering Risk,” will be available to reporters by teleconference.
The major funding for Dr. Andersen’s research was provided by a $1.4 million 4 year grant from the National Institutes of Health. The U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command Breast Cancer Research Program and the Susan B. Komen Foundation provided additional support. Local organizations that have also made contributions in support of this research include the Albany Academy for Girls and the Executive Women’s Golf Association.
Founded in 1907, the American Association for Cancer Research is a professional society of more than 24,000 laboratory, translational and clinical scientists engaged in all areas of cancer research in the United States and in more than 60 other countries. AACR’s mission is to accelerate the prevention and cure of cancer through research, education, communication and advocacy.
NOTE: For information on how to dial in to the live press conference or to arrange an interview with Dr. Andersen or another member of the research team, please call the Albany Medical Center public relations office at 518-262-3421.