Scientists discover a dynamic cellular defense against breast cancer invasion
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IMAGE: Real-time 3D confocal time-lapse movie of Twist1-expressing epithelial cells (red) invading into the surrounding extracellular matrix and then being restrained and pulled back by normal myoepithelial cells (green)…. view more 

Credit: Katarina Sirka

Johns Hopkins researchers report they have demonstrated in mouse tissue grown in the lab that the cell layer surrounding breast milk ducts reaches out to grab stray cancer cells to keep them from spreading through the body. The findings reveal that this cell layer, called the myoepithelium, is not a stationary barrier to cancer invasion, as scientists previously thought, but an active defense against breast cancer metastasis.

Results of the scientists’ experiments are published online July 30, 2018, in the Journal of Cell Biology.

“Understanding how cancer cells are contained could eventually help us develop ways to predict a person’s individualized risk of metastasis,” says Andrew Ewald, Ph.D., professor of cell biology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a member of the Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Most breast tumors begin in the cells that line the interior of breast milk ducts. These cells in turn are surrounded by myoepithelial cells, Ewald says, which work together to contract and move

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