Researchers from the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center at Baylor College of Medicine will use a $100,000 grant from The Mary Kay Foundation to further study genetic alterations that contribute to development of the most aggressive form of breast cancer, with the poorest prognosis and limited treatment options.

The team, led by Dr. Eric Chang, associate professor in the Smith Breast Center, will hone in on identifying a key growth pathway for "basal-like" breast cancer.

This subtype of breast cancer is characterized by high-grade triple negative tumors that do not express estrogen receptors, HER-2 or the progesterone receptor proteins.

Targeting the former two has been highly successful in reducing the mortality of breast cancer. However, since basal-like breast cancer cells do not express these molecules, they cannot be treated with current targeted therapies, Chang said.

"Our studies suggest that these tumor cells, instead of using estrogen, have been switched to receive growth signals from growth factors," said Chang. "We think targeting this growth pathway can ultimately suppress the rapid development of this type of breast cancer."

The researchers plan to define the gene activity in this pathway, leading to better understanding of the development of basal-like tumor and ways to target this cancer.