Women suffering from breast cancer may benefit from giving their breasts an extra squeeze – literally.
According to researchers from the University of California at Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, placing mechanical force on malignant mammary cells can actually reverse their irregular growth process and put them back on track for a normal growth pattern.
“We are showing that tissue organization is sensitive to mechanical inputs from the environment at the beginning stages of growth and development,” said Daniel Fletcher, professor of bioengineering at Berkeley and faculty scientist at the Berkeley Lab, as well as the study’s lead investigator.
Breast tissue grows, shrinks and shifts throughout the course of a woman’s life in a structured pattern – and ultimately stops growing at some point. Breast cancer is often characterized by a breakdown in this normal growth pattern, causing breast cancer cells to grow irregularly.
Through a previous experiment at the Berkeley Lab, researchers showed it was possible to prevent these malignant cells from transforming into a tumor by manipulating the cells’ surrounding environment through the use of biochemical inhibitors. Ultimately the surrounding healthy cells could persuade the cancerous cells to grow normally again.
The most recent work from the Berkeley Lab utilizes the same concept, but introduces mechanical inhibitors rather than chemical inhibitors. The researchers grew malignant breast epithelial cells in a gelatin-like substance, which was injected into flexible silicon chambers. They then applied force to the silicon over time, and ultimately witnessed the malignant cells grow into more healthy-looking cells. Time-lapse microscopy showed the change in the compressed breast cells over time.
While their research is compelling, the researchers do not advocate for compression bras or force alone to treat breast cancer.
“Compression, in and of itself, is not likely to be a therapy,” Fletcher said. “But, this does give us new clues to track down the molecules and structures that could eventually be targeted for therapies.”
The research findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology in San Francisco Monday.