In a biomedical first, researchers have grown a mini-breast in Petri dish that could provide a new tool for cancer research.
In a biomedical first, researchers have grown a mini-breast in Petri dish that could provide a new tool for cancer research. The research group, led by Christina Scheel, developed an assay whereby cultured human breast epithelial cells rebuild the three-dimensional tissue architecture of the mammary gland.
For this purpose, a transparent gel is used in which cells divide and spread, similar to the developing mammary gland during puberty. Specifically, cells divide and generate hollow ducts that form a network of branches and terminate in grape-like structures.
Breast cancer cells can adopt properties of stem cells to acquire aggressive traits. To determine how aggressive traits arise in breast cancer cells, it is therefore crucial to first elucidate the functioning of normal breast stem cells. For this purpose, the Scheel group provides a new powerful experimental tool.
First author Jelena Linnemann said that they were able to demonstrate that increasing rigidity of the gel led to increased spreading of the cells, or, said differently, invasive growth. Similar behaviour was already observed in breast cancer cells. The results suggest that invasive growth in response to physical rigidity represents a normal process during mammary gland development that is exploited during tumor progression.
Co-author Lisa Meixner adds that with their assay, they can elucidate how such processes are controlled at the molecular level, which provides the basis for developing therapeutic strategies to inhibit them in breast cancer.
Another reason the mini-mammary glands represent a particularly valuable tool is, because the cells that build these structure are directly isolated from patient tissue. In this case, healthy tissue from women undergoing aesthetic breast reduction is used.
This technological break-through provides the basis for many research projects, both those aimed to understand how breast cancer cells acquire aggressive traits, as well as to elucidate how adult stem cells function in normal regeneration, says Scheel.
The study appears in Development.