If the controversial ‘abortion pill’ has been looking for a way to improve its public image, UC Irvine scientists may have found a characteristic that few could dispute as a being a positive side effect.
Lead author of the study on the drug Dr. Eva Lee and her colleagues have found that a chemical compound in the abortion pill can act as a preventative agent against tumors in the mammary glands caused by a mutant gene that is accountable for most breast and ovarian cancers.
The study provides an alternative prevention method for women looking for genetic predisposition to such cancers, when currently the surgical removal of their breasts and ovaries is the primary source of reducing cancer risks.
The specific compound in the pill is called mifepristone and assists the prevention of breast and ovarian cancers by slowing down the growth of progesterone in breast tissue, which is a hormone involved with the female reproductive cycle.
‘We found that progesterone plays a role in the development of breast cancer by encouraging the proliferation of mammary cells that carry a breast cancer gene,’ Lee said in a UCI press release. Lee also is a professor of developmental and cell biology and biological chemistry at UCI.
‘Mifepristone can block that response. We’re excited about this discovery and hope it leads to new options for women with a high risk for developing breast cancer.’
For those studying cancer and genetics, the BRCA-1 comes under particular scrutiny because a mutated version of the gene has a direct relationship with a heightened risk of breast and ovarian cancer in women. At age 70, more than half of women with a mutated BRCA-1 gene develop breast or ovarian cancer.
In Lee’s research, mice with the mutated BRCA-1 gene were treated with mifepristone, the chemical compound in the abortion bill, and by year one there were no signs of cancerous tumors. The mice with the mutated gene that were not treated with the chemical compound developed cancerous tumors after 8 months.
The connection between the abortion pill’s positive characteristics and its more controversial use lies in progesterone’s primary function, which is crucial during pregnancy. Mifepristone in the pill acts to prevent progesterone production during the first trimester, which hinders any chances for the fetus’s survival.
However, while progesterone is essential for a successful pregnancy, it also helps in the growth of the mutated BRCA-1 because it increases the speed of cell division. According to a UCI press release, ‘Mifepristone was found to block a binding process that is necessary for progesterone to cause the cell division.’
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