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UNC Researchers Using Microarrays To Study Breast Cancer

Posted January 8, 2002

— Thanks to new advances, breast cancer can be a beatable disease, but there is still a lot we do not know about breast cancer. New technology is helping doctors learn more.

Researchers at UNC are using microarrays to get inside breast tumors. It used to take an enormous amount of time to look at one gene, but with the help of computers and robtics, they can now stack thousands of genes side by side, creating a microarray. The microarray allows scientists to study and compare the genes.

Dr. Chuck Perou said he now holds more information than he ever thought possible. While scientists are excited about the new technology, it is also exciting news for women.

Right now, oncologists use size and other charateristics of a tumor to decide what type of treatment is needed. Dr. Lisa Carey admits that is not the best method.

"It's like if you went to buy a house and all you were able to do was stand outside and look at it and decide from there," she said. "With this kind of technology, you now have a blueprint and you're able to walk around the rooms and get a much better feel of the interior."

The more microarrays they examine, the more scientists learn about breast cancer. For example, until now, researchers believed there was only one kind of breast cancer.

"What we're seeing is quite the opposite. Our data suggests that it's at least three or four different diseases," Perou said.

The research is currently contained to the lab because there is not enough data yet to move it into hospitals. But when it does transfer, doctors are sure it will mean better treatments and better outcomes for women.

Scientists said they now have more data than they have time to comprehend. They are using several software programs to help them analyze the information.

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