Angelina Jolie has been diagnosed with the faulty gene
More than 50,000 women are diagnosed with the disease every year in the UK. Doctors may be better able to treat breast cancer in future after a new discovery about the faulty gene inherited by Angelina Jolie.
The Tomb Raider star had surgery to reduce her breast cancer risk after finding she had a faulty copy of the BRCA1 gene.
Having an altered copy of the gene meant her chances of developing the disease were far higher than the average woman.
Now more targeted treatments could be possible after British scientists made a breakthrough in understanding BRCA1.
Dr Jo Morris is the lead researcher
Lead researcher Dr Jo Morris, of the University of Birmingham, said: “We know that loss of BRCA1 is associated with a high risk of breast cancer, so getting to grips with understanding this gene has been a major aim of breast cancer research.
Read more: Breast cancer breakthrough could prevent disease from returning in patients
“This study may explain why some cancer predisposing mutations are found in the front part of the BRCA1 gene.”
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The BRCA1 gene tells cells to make a protein that helps repair damage to DNA.
So people who inherit a faulty copy are less able to repair damage that accumulates in their DNA over time. And that means they’re at higher risk of cancer.
The new research, published in Nature Structural and Molecular Biology, shows how the gene encourages the attachment of a protein called ubiquitin to other proteins and plays a vital role in DNA repair.
Angelina Jolie has said she has had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to avoid the risk of ovarian cancer
Previously, little was known about the importance of this activity in DNA repair.
The new research has found that this attachment of ubiquitin by BRCA1, its ‘ubiquitin ligase activity’, is needed for a specific type of DNA repair that is “error-free”.
It is known that cells without this type of DNA repair can develop mutations – which may lead to cancer.
Dr Morris added: “Our finding that BRCA1 has several independent functions in DNA repair has implications for treatment.
“Clinicians are currently worried that breast cancer patients with low or absent BRCA1 may become resistant to therapeutic agents such as Olaparib.
“Our data show that cancer cells without BRCA1 have more than one ‘Achilles heel’, and so there are more ways to target cancers and therefore to prevent tumours becoming resistant to treatment.”