A new study published in Science Translational Medicine concluded that a novel breast cancer therapy that partially reverses the cancerous state in cultured breast tumor cells and prevents cancer development in mice, could one day provide a new way to treat early stage s of the disease without surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. This involves from a sophicated effort to reverse-engineer gene networks to identify genes that drive cancer and could lead to many new therapies that disable cancer-causing genes that no current drugs can stop.

In order to block cancer causing genes they first  had to identify specific genes among the thousands that are active in the cell at any moment. Typically they look for individual genes that become active as cancer develops. Hwever, since genes act in complex networks this approach has led to some false convictions of innocent genes. this  In order to improve the odds researchers developed a mathematical and computational method to reverse-engineer bacterial gene networks. They honed the computational network to work for the first time on the more complex gene networks of mice and humans. The refined network helped them spot mnore than 100 genes that acted suspicious just before milk-duct cells in the breast began to overgrow. The researchers then narrowed their list to six genes that turn other genes on or off. They then narrowed it further to a single gene called HoxA1 that had the strongest statistical link to cancer.

Using this information they wanted to know if blocking the HoxA1 gene could reverse cancer in lab-grown cells from mice milk ducts and were successful. The treated cells also stopped breast cancer in a line of mice genetically engineered to have a gene that causes all of them to develop cancer.