Scientists Grow Lab Breast to Study Cancer Treatments

A team of scientists led by Christina Scheel at the Helmholtz Center for Health and Environmental Research in Munich have successfully grown mammary glands using cells donated after breast reduction operations. This was not an exercise of skill, nor were the glands created for any sort of cosmetic reason. Instead, the research was conducted so that scientists would be able to construct a platform on which to study the spread of cancer.


Lab breast grown to help scientists study cancer.

The study of cancer growth is both tough and complicated to researchers, who need in-depth looks at the organs they’re studying. For this reason, they’ve been trying to build organelles modeled after real organs, which are susceptible to the ravages of cancer. Now that they have succeeded, some interesting research remains to be done.


Regenerative processes of milk duct network in breasts poorly understood.

Starting from puberty, a female’s mammary gland forms a network of milk ducts that can one day provide milk for children she may have. Over her life, the network of milk ducts is constantly changing and regenerating, but the process enabling this is poorly understood. It is usually the cells within this mammary milk duct network that first get cancer, so scientists are trying to use this newly grown lab breast to better understand the regenerative process.


How was the lab breast grown?

The lab-made mammary was made from donated mammary gland cells added to gels made of collagen fibers, form a common type of connecting tissue. The cells then moved out and latched on to the collagen fibers, pulling on them in the process. This is what generated the physical force needed to promote cell growth into a new milk duct network. The team of researchers found that when using more rigid types of collagen gels, the cells began to grow in a way that resembled tumor formation. This new piece of data reflects the knowledge that stiffer connective tissue has been linked to breast cancer, though the stiffer tissue also seems to be a part of normal breast development as time goes on. Either way, one thing is certain: the lab breast is already fruitful as a research platform.



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