MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Scientists at the University of Minnesota say they’ve made a breakthrough when it comes to what causes many cases of breast cancer.

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They say they’ve discovered the enzyme that causes mutations found in about half of all breast cancer patients.

“What we’ve identified is a cause of mutation in cancer, and by derivative that means we’ve identified a cause of cancer,” said Dr. Reuben Harris, a lead researcher at the U.

Harris and his biochemistry team discovered a particular enzyme — one that many people have —  to be overexpressed in the majority of breast cancer cases.

Now, the goal is to figure out why and how that enzyme mutates into cancer.

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“I think it’s going to change the way people think about mutation,” Harris said. “Before people thought of mutation as something that happens that we can’t do anything about… and I think now we can really think seriously about doing something about it.”

HealthPartners oncologist Dr. Daniel Anderson calls the study fascinating. He says it tells him that breast cancer might be preventable.

“We would hope that in the future we could find drugs that would help block the effects of this protein, and maybe stop the development of cancer,” he said.

More research is needed, but if all goes as the researchers hope, it could mean breakthroughs in breast cancer development over the next several years.

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“I don’t know if we’ll ever stop every single case, but I think we can do a really good job of cutting down on the rates,” Harris said.

Heather Brown