Breast cancer, lifestyle versus genetics
A little little word. Indeed, a “fragment” of the word: miRna. Yet we will hear it more and more often in the fight against breast cancer (and not only). “Mi” stands for micro which, as the name implies, are small pieces of Rna, the molecule that has become so famous for anti-Covid vaccines.
The news is that some researchers are trying to use them to predict the risk of getting sick in women who are healthy but genetically predisposed to developing breast cancer due to mutations in the Brca1 and 2 genes. How? Through a simple saliva sample. Before reaching this goal – which is certainly still futuristic – scientists want to understand if changing the diet and lifestyle in these women reflexively changes the expression of microRNAs known to be associated with the disease. What we are talking about in this Breast health newsletter is therefore a real primary prevention project, dedicated to women at high risk of cancer.
What are microRnas
Let’s go in order. In our body there are many different “types” of microRNA, about twenty “letters” (nucleotides) of the alphabet of genes long. Unlike RNA they do not serve to “manufacture” any protein (in jargon it is said that they are not coding). Well, what do they do then? The answer is complex but, simplified, they serve to modulate the expression of genes. Obviously also mutated Brca 1 and 2 genes and, potentially, they can reduce it, thus lowering the risk of developing cancer.
Nutrition and physical activity to modulate genetic risk
“Mutations in the Brca genes can greatly increase the risk of cancer, by 55-60%, but we know that there is a variability in the modality and in the time of onset of the disease: even if the mutation is the same, some develop the cancer before, others after, others never “, he explains Rita AntonelliPhD student in Molecular Medicine at the University Center of Dentistry of Parma: “It is thought that this depends on how much the mutated gene is expressed, that is, ‘translated into the corresponding defective protein. This aspect – which we call penetrance of the gene – seems in turn depend on personal, endogenous and environmental variables, including nutrition and physical activity “.
Well, microRNAs are universal regulators of gene expression and it is already known that it is possible to modify their expression by changing diet and physical activity level. “We – continues Antonelli – now we want to take a step forward: to verify if with a personalized diet and indications on physical activity we are able to change the quantity of microRNAs associated with the onset of breast cancer in those with mutations in the Brca genes. 1 or 2 – in particular miRna21, miRna125b and miRna155 “.
In short, the ultimate goal is to find markers that can indicate whether changes in diet and lifestyle are effectively reducing the expression of the Brca genes and, therefore, the risk of getting sick in these women. Not only that: the collection of microRNAs takes place through saliva, an even less invasive method than blood sampling, and that the researchers hope to validate.
The pilot study of nutri-epigenomics is carried out by the Breast Unit of the University Hospital of Parma coordinated by Antonino Musolino, by the Salivary Research Group of the Department of Medicine and Surgery coordinated by Marco Meletifrom the group of Paola Mozzoni for laboratory analysis of miRnas, and is funded by the Italian League for the Fight against Tumors (Lilt) through a national competitive tender. The first results will be presented next week in a conference within the Medicine program of the Taobuk Festival in Taormina, a unique cultural event of its kind, which sees the representation of different humanities and scientific disciplines.
An ad personam diet
Through the Breast Unit, a personalized diet was proposed to the 20 women enrolled (between 18 and 40 years): not a standard and strict diet, therefore, but indications based on preferences, body mass index, propensity for physical activity and etc. The saliva was collected in 5 moments: at “time zero” (before the start of the nutritional intervention) and after 3, 6, 11, 17 and 23 months. “We will go and see if and how the quantity of microRnas in the saliva taken in these different moments changes – continues Antonelli – to understand if the nutritional intervention has an impact or not. The results we will present at the Taobuk Festival concern the first 11 months of experimentation. . We have seen that indeed there is a change and it is correlated to our intervention in a linear way. And we have observed that some microRna have never expressed themselves: this too is an important fact for us “.
The next step? “Once the analyzes are completed, on the basis of the results we want to conduct a larger-scale experimentation and also include women with Brca mutations who have already developed cancer”, concludes the researcher: “The hope for the future is that these studies will be useful. to develop a new test that can predict the development of cancer in a timely and personalized way “.
#Breast #cancer #lifestyle #genetics