Area surrounding a tumor impacts how breast cancer cells grow
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PORTLAND, Oregon – Cancer is typically thought of as a tumor that needs to be removed or an area that needs to be treated with radiation or chemotherapy. As a physicist and cancer researcher, Joe Gray, Ph.D., thinks differently.

“Cancer is complex mixture of cancer cells, normal blood cells, tissue and immune cells. Tumor cells themselves alter the microenvironment to secrete things that help tumors grow,” he said.

Gray and Jim Korkola, Ph.D., led a team of OHSU researchers to publish a paper in Cell Systems focused on the area around a tumor, called the microenvironment.

“We were interested in exploring a large number of signals from the different cells and components of cancer to understand what they do with therapeutic response,” said Gray, the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute associate director for biophysical oncology and professor of biomedical engineering in the OHSU School of Medicine.

The HER2 positive microenvironment

The researchers focused on a type of breast cancer that tests positive for a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2, or HER2, which promotes cancer cell growth. This overexpression of HER2 occurs in roughly 25 percent of all breast cancer cases.

Korkola, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering in the OHSU

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