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Physical Squeeze Can ‘Fix’ Breast Cancer Cells

December 20, 2012
Written by: , Filed in: Breast Imaging
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Physical compression of malignant breast cancer cells that are beginning to form a tumor can guide them back into a normal growth pattern, according to researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

The cells remain malignant; the compression doesn’t change the genetic mutations within them. But the squeeze seems to deactivate whatever trigger caused them to begin growing abnormally.

“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, PhD, principal investigator for the study. “An early signal, in the form of compression, appears to get these malignant cells back on the right track.”

Dr. Fletcher is a professor of bioengineering a UC Berkeley and a faculty scientist at the Berkeley National Lab. He was quoted in a UC Berkeley news release.

Gautham Venugopalan, PhD, a postdoctoral scholar at Fletcher’s lab, conducted the experiments as part of his recently completed PhD dissertation at UC Berkeley. Dr. Venugopalan presented the findings earlier this week at the American Society for Cell Biology Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

The cell changes occurred in a test tube—or rather, in flexible silicone chambers—not in actual breasts. And the researchers aren’t suggesting that squeezing will block or cure breast cancer. After all, if that were the case, mammography would be a treatment as well as a screening tool.

Said Dr. Fletcher:

Compression, in and of itself, is not likely to be a therapy. But this does give us new clues to track down the molecules and structures that could eventually be targeted for therapies.

The idea of compression affecting cell growth isn’t as far-fetched as it might seem at first glance. “People have known for centuries that physical force can influence our bodies,” said Dr. Venugopalan. “When we lift weights, our muscles get bigger. The force of gravity is essential to keeping our bones strong.

“Here, we show that physical force can play a role in the growth—and reversion—of cancer cells.”

Related seminar: Breast Imaging and Intervention: A Comprehensive Review (discount and free domestic shipping)

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