How Breast Cancers Grow and Metastasize - Dream Health

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Saturday, 1 September 2018

How Breast Cancers Grow and Metastasize

Breast Cancers

Researchers help us understand how Breast Cancer can Metastasize

Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers that occur in women. Millions of women worldwide are afflicted with breast cancer and according to statistics, one in every eight women are detected with breast cancer in developed nations.

We have seen a lot of improvement in treating breast cancer and the survival rate too has climbed up in the last quarter of a century. On the flip side, metastatic breast cancer results in death of the people diagnosed within a short span of three years of detection. When detection of breast cancer occurs at an early stage, chances of survival increase. The solid tumor in the breast cancer and all other cancers are resistant to even the best medicines and therapies.

A research team from Stevens Institute of Technology have discovered that there are certain conditions that help some cancers to multiply, detach and spread fast through the entire body.

Hongjun Wang, a Stevens biomedical engineering professor and head of the Department of Biomedical Engineering says that this discovery will enable the researchers to discover better medicines and treatments for various cancers. Besides the treatment of the cancer cells, if they examine and target the environment that surrounds the tumors, then they can find improved ways of either slowing down the progression of solid tumors or even arrest them.

Research done on Breast Cancer

Wang’s team developed a semi-synthetic fiber/gel hybrid material which closely represents the actual environment in which the cancer cells grow. They subjected the material to mimic the conditions seen in stiff cancer tissues as well as the healthier and not so stiff cancer tissues and various gradients in between.

With this they are able to study and understand the slow changes that take place as cancer develops. They then conducted various experiments seeding and taking cultures of the localised MCF-7 and the metastatic MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells. These breast cancer cells were put in a nutritious medium for three to seven days, which was a longer time period as compared to the earlier studies.
The previous studies done showed that the cancer cells take more than 24 hours to adapt to its environment. The 24-hour period is a very short time to see the full picture and hence they tried it for a longer period of time.

Growth of Cancer Cells

The samples were incubated and they discovered that the stiffness of the local environment causes the breast cancer cells to rapidly increase and multiply initially. When the seeding with cancer cells was done in the first 24 hours, the growth of the cells was more or less as expected.

The stiffer the environment, the faster the cells attached. In the stiffer medium, the cells appeared rounder and could be differentiated individually. The cells in the softer medium were found in colonies. Based on the shape of the cells, they could then predict how they will spread.

It was also seen that migration of cells was faster in stiffer environments. When they subjected the cells to chemical analysis, the proteins associated with metastasis such as vimentin and other proteins for increased aggressiveness was more likely when the tissue was stiffer.

After a three-day period, they noticed that the growth rate slowed down and stopped in the very stiff tissues. They concluded that it is the stiffness that regulates the progress of breast cancer cells. This was a very important finding. This was a new way to look at how the cancer cells metastasize.

The researchers can now look at targeting the properties of the environment surrounding the cancerous cells and not only the tumors.

The team is now focussing on the breast cancer cells and will then go further in their research of other types of cancer cells.

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