Most people know that when you’re checking for breast cancer, you’re looking for lumps or hard spots. But why does breast tissue get hard when cancer is present?
The answer lies in how cells respond to mechanical changes, a process called “mechanotransduction.” When breast tissue stiffens, it sets off a chain reaction that makes cells grow and multiply more than usual, which can lead to a tumor.
A Promising Discovery: The Role of Laminin
Researchers at the Institute of Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) and the University of Barcelona have found something that could slow down this chain reaction.
They’ve discovered that a protein called laminin, which normally helps keep breast tissue healthy, can also protect cells from the harmful effects of stiffness.
Here’s how it works: When the tissue stiffens, laminin prevents the cells’ central control room, called the “nucleus,” from changing shape.
This is important because if the nucleus changes shape, it triggers genes that make cells grow faster, which can lead to cancer.
By keeping the nucleus in its normal shape, laminin could potentially prevent or slow down the growth of a tumor.
“We’ve only tested this in the lab so far, but we’ve also looked at samples from breast cancer patients and see potential for real-world applications,” says Zanetta Kechagia, a postdoctoral researcher at IBEC and one of the authors of the study.
Looking Forward: New Diagnostic Tools and Therapies
The team believes that understanding this protective role of laminin can open doors for new diagnostic tools and even therapies for breast cancer.
“We’ve shown that laminin can stop cancer cells from invading tissue, which makes us hopeful for developing more sensitive tests for early detection or new treatments,” says Pere Roca-Cusachs, the study’s lead researcher.
In the study, the team used gels that mimic the stiffness of healthy and cancerous breast tissues.
They noticed that cells on gels rich in laminin reacted much less to stiffness compared to cells on gels that contained other proteins commonly found in cancerous processes.
This suggests that laminin’s protective effect isn’t just theoretical but could work in real-world conditions as well.
“We’ve been working on this for over six years, with the help of the European Commission and several international institutions,” says Daniel Caudepón, the project manager overseeing the research coalition.
The team collaborated with other experts in the field from institutions in Spain and the Netherlands.
So, while there’s still more work to be done, this discovery could be a significant step forward in the battle against breast cancer.
The researchers are optimistic that further studies will confirm laminin’s role as a protector against breast cancer growth, leading to new ways to diagnose and treat this widespread disease.
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The research findings can be found in Nature Materials.
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