The reason why breast-milk cells lose their structure, causing them to clump up in strange ways and sometimes become cancer tumors has been explained in new research led by McGill Biochemist Dr. William Muller.
With the support of Chen Ling and Dongmei Zuo at McGill's Goodman Cancer Centre, Muller has discovered how one particular gene regulates epithelial cells - cells that normally form in sheets and are polarized to enable the transport of molecules in a single direction. It's this loss of polarity that is thought to play an important role in breast tumor development. Scientists at the Ontario Cancer Institute (Princess Margaret Hospital's research arm) and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York State also contributed to the findings.
By using mouse models, Muller discovered that the cells do not form neat structures when the gene malfunctions. "In fact, the first mouse model had a skin defect and was completely incapable of forming sheets of epithelial cells. This gene is frequently lost in breast cancer, significant proof that this gene might play an important role," he said.