By Sola Ogundipe
A SCIENTIST at the UC Berkeley Lab, has conducted pioneering experiments that showed that a malignant cell is not doomed to become a tumour, but that its fate is dependent on its interaction with the surrounding micro-environment.
Her experiments showed that manipulation of this environment, through the introduction of biochemical inhibitors, could tame mutated mammary cells into behaving normally.
Bissell and her team, in collaboration with Daniel Fletcher’s laboratory in Berkeley, also discovered that when a bit of mechanical pressure is applied to breast cancer tumuor cells, the cells revert to healthy breast tissue.
The findings were presented last Monday at the annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology in San Francisco.
While not suggesting they are creating a cancer fighting compression bra, the researchers argue that compression, in and of itself, is not likely to be a therapy, but does give new clues to track down the molecules and structures that could eventually be targeted for therapies.
Traditionally, cancer develops from genetic mutations within the cell. Breast cancer is one of the commonest cancers in women worldwide.
The latest work from Fletcher’s lab, in collaboration with Bissell’s laboratory, takes a major step forward by introducing the concept of mechanical rather than chemical influences on cancer cell growth.
Gautham Venugopalan, a member of Fletcher’s lab, and collaborators grew malignant breast epithelial cells in a gelatin-like substance that had been injected into flexible silicone chambers.
The flexible chambers allowed the researchers to apply a compressive force in the first stages of cell development.
Over time, the compressed malignant cells grew into more organised, healthy-looking acini that resembled normal structures, compared with malignant cells that were not compressed.
The researchers used time-lapse microscopy over several days to show that early compression also induced coherent rotation in the malignant cells, a characteristic feature of normal development.
Notably, those cells stopped growing once the breast tissue structure was formed, even though the compressive force had been removed.