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Study offers new model for breast cancer

The last few years have witnessed critical advances in breast cancer therapies. Still, the disease afflicts one in eight American women, and scientists have yet to develop a living model with which they can study the intricacies of human breast-tumor behavior.

Now, a team in the lab of scientist Robert Weinberg at Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research has successfully grafted human breast tissue into the mammary glands of mice. As a result, the mice formed functional breasts that are capable of producing human breast milk. More importantly, some of these mice were engineered to form early stage breast tumors like those found in humans.

"This is the first experimental model of human breast cancer in the mouse that we've ever had," says Charlotte Kuperwasser, lead author of the study and a former postdoctoral researcher in the Weinberg lab who now is an assistant professor at Tufts University School of Medicine. The study appears online this week in the early edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Currently, researchers studying human breast cancer tissue must rely on biopsies on slides for their work, an effective technique in many respects, but one that doesn't allow scientists to view the tumors in action. Alternatively, they may propagate human breast cancer cells in culture. Attempts to create live models by injecting human cancer tissues beneath the skin of mice have been ineffective because the cancer cells used in these experiments typically are bred in Petri dishes and end up bearing little resemblance to human cancer. In addition, these tumor cells often stop growing after they've been injected.

"Here, the human tumor cells grow because we've created a human environment, and that's a powerful tool" for breast cancer research, says Kuperwasser.

To create this environment, Kuperwasser separated the two primary types of human breast tissue: epithelial cells, which form the interna
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Contact: David Cameron
newsroom@wi.mit.edu
617-258-5183
Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research
22-Mar-2004


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