Luca Mazzarella wins an AIRC grant to study the role of NF1 protein in breast cancer metastases

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Luca Mazzarella, group leader of the Translational Oncology unit, won the My Fist AIRC grant 2021 to explore the role of NF1 protein in breast cancer metastases, by focusing on the biological consequences of the loss of function of this protein on metastatic dissemination, and testing the possibility to use NF1 as a marker to identify patients likely to respond to specific antibody-based anti-cancer treatment.

In spite of the great advances in cancer research, metastases remain one of the main issues in the cure of cancer patients and understanding the key underlying biomolecular processes is of pivotal importance to efficiently target and halt the metastatic dissemination. Understanding the biological processes that render some tumor cells sensitive to selected anti-cancer treatments and the possibility to exploit this knowledge to identify patients responding to such treatments is equally important, as it allows for the choice of the most adequate therapeutic option, which can maximize benefits for cancer patients. 

In this scenario, Dr Mazzarella’s project aims at investigating the role of NF1 protein in the biological processes leading to breast cancer metastasization, as well as at evaluating the possibility to exploit NF1 as a biomarker to identify patients likely to benefit from specific treatments.

Luca Mazzarella and his co-workers have previously observed that NF1 is frequently mutated in metastatic breast cancer cells as compared to non-metastatic cells. Subsequent research suggests that the loss of NF1 triggers a series of alterations during cell division, which may explain why NF1 loss favors metastases and why these tumors exhibit higher sensitivity to specific treatments

By using clinical samples, mouse models and cell lines, on one side, the project aims at unveiling the key biological mechanisms underlying NF1-related metastasis dissemination; on the other side, they will evaluate the possibility to exploit NF1 in a clinical setting, as a potential biomarker to rationally guide treatment of metastatic breast cancer

The project will thus have a significant impact both in a basic research context, by expanding the current knowledge on the mechanisms of metastatic dissemination, and in a translational context, by providing novel and useful tools to be exploited in a clinical setting.