Discovery of Dynamic Defense Against the Spread of Breast Cancer

Discovery of Dynamic Defense Against the Spread of Breast Cancer

Many people assume that their bodies can’t defend against cancer, but in fact, there are a number of internal mechanisms routinely at work that help to keep cancer in check. This includes ongoing actions at both the cellular level (such as regulating cell growth) and system-wide activities (such as inflammation suppression).

Now, an exciting new discovery by Johns Hopkins researchers is furthering our understanding of protection at the cellular level. Researchers found that the layer of cells that lines the breast milk ducts—called the myoepithelial layer—actively reaches out to grab stray cancer cells and then restrain them. These are cancerous cells that would have otherwise spread throughout the body. Previously, it was believed that the myoepithelial layer acted only as stationary barrier.

Why is this important? Because most breast tumors begin in the cells that line the interior of breast milk ducts. And so, by knowing that the myoepithelial cells actively thwart the cancer cells, researchers can now work to find ways to encourage this type of defensive behavior.

While the research is still in its early stages (so far conducted only in the lab with engineered cells), researchers believe it will ultimately help in predicting a person’s risk of the spread of breast cancer. And with this understanding, doctors will be better able to determine whether or not more aggressive treatment would be beneficial.

Check out the time-lapse video ( of cells making their defensive moves, from the research done by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine professor Andrew Ewald, M.D. and his team. Results have also been published in the July 30, 2018 issue of Journal of Cell Biology.

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