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“Ecotypes,” a new way to think about breast cancer

December 23, 2021

Ecotypes - a new way to think about breast cancer

Researchers from Australia are exploring new ways to classify breast cancer subtypes in hopes of improving prognosis and treatment in the future.

While traditional classifications like “ER-,” “HER-2+” and “Triple Negative” hinge on hormone receptors, the researchers’ new experimental method focuses on breast cancer “ecotypes” – or profiles of tumor, immune, and connective tissue cells.

“Current methods for classifying breast cancers only provide a limited picture of the complex biology contained in the tumors,” says Sunny Wu, postdoctoral Research Fellow at Garvan Institute of Medical Research and co-first author of a paper published in Nature Genetics. “Classifying breast cancers based on their entire composition of cells can provide a new and comprehensive view of a cancer.”

According to a news release from the institute, researchers assessed breast cancer tissue biopsies, including the “complete cell profile” of each tissue sample, from 26 patients at Sydney hospitals. The work revealed the presence of more than 50 different cell types or cell states. The researchers then analyzed publicly available data from thousands of breast cancer patients and discovered nine recurring patterns they defined as ecotypes.

“Each of these ecotypes directly corresponded with a different clinical outcome in patients, which is why we think they may help reveal which treatment a tumor will best respond to,” says co-first author Dr. Daniel Roden.

iSpecimen supports innovative breast cancer research by collecting and distributing tumor tissue samples (benign or malignant) and normal adjacent tissue from cancer patients, as well as biospecimens of all kinds from healthy controls. Research organizations using the iSpecimen Marketplace can filter biospecimen collections not only by subtype but by specific age, gender, race, blood type, BMI, smoking status, medical history, family history, and more.

Breast cancer, the world’s most prevalent cancer, was diagnosed in 2.3 million women last year and claimed 685,000 lives, but research is progressing, thanks to researchers like these.

Learn about the iSpecimen Marketplace where you can browse millions of richly annotated, de-identified human tissue and biofluid biospecimens, in addition to hematopoietic and immune cell products and COVID-19 samples. You can join for free.