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Growing Mini-Breasts for Cancer Research

Researchers often use two-dimensional cell culture studies to study cancer biology. However, a recent group of researchers, led by Dr. Christina Scheel at the German Research Center for Environmental Health, has advanced this experimental model by creating three-dimensional “mini-breasts”— organoid structures derived from human breast epithelial cells.

The research group inserted the cells, cultured from healthy tissue of women undergoing aesthetic breast reduction surgery, into a transparent gel to mimic the development of the mammary gland during puberty. According to the researchers, obtaining tissue from these women was particularly helpful to assess how adult breast stem cells regenerate and acquire aggressive traits that lead to cancer.

Simulating the growth and remodeling of normal breast tissue may improve understanding on how environmental factors within the body can cause normal breast tissue to become malignant. For example, increasing the rigidity of the gel promoted invasive cell growth, suggesting a link between physical properties of the breast environment and cell changes at the molecular level. The researchers plan to use this model to further investigate how these physical properties promote development of aggressive breast cancer cells from normal tissue.

Source: Linnemann JR et al. Quantification of regenerative potential in primary human mammary epithelial cells. Development. 2015.

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