Cancer Cells Thrive in Stiff Tissue, According to New Study


Source: University of Notre Dame

Summary: According to a recent study, Stiffer breast tissue creates an environment more prone to cancer by enabling the disease to interfere with the surrounding healthy cells.


Fat cells, collagen fibers and epithelial cells make up the microenvironment of breast tissue. Cancer typically appears around the epithelial cells. Previous studies looking at differences between healthy and cancerous tissue found that the cancerous tissue differed in stiffness. Stiff tissue can present a microenvironment susceptible to tumor growth by enabling the cancer cells to modulate its surrounding connective tissue cells. According to a recent study, researchers from the University of Notre Dame found that stiffer breast tissue creates an environment more prone to cancer by enabling the disease to interfere with the surrounding healthy cells. They fabricated a human tissue model to examine how cancer cells interact with connective tissue in the breast. The study findings were published in the journal Biomaterials.

stiffer breast tissue creates an environment more prone to cancer

Pinar Zorlutuna, assistant professor in the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering and the Harper Cancer Research Institute at the University of Notre Dame. Credit: Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

The model allowed the team to control the stiffness of the tissue, mimicking both healthy and cancerous breast tissue structures. The model also allowed to study varying levels of stiffness in the tissue. In tissue with normal stiffness, the cancer cells did not interfere with the state of the surrounding stromal cells. In tests where the tissue was stiffer, cancer halted the differentiation process of the surrounding fat stem cells, favoring a more stem cell-like state creating a microenvironment that favors a tumor to grow. Researchers have typically conducted similar studies using animal models. While these tests can help advance an understanding of the disease.

Asst. Prof. Pinar Zorlutuna said, “Animals and humans are quite different, If you’re looking at tissue environment, mobility and the immune system, mouse models, for example, are as different to human models as the pancreas is to the lung.”


More Information: Xiaoshan Yue et al, “Stromal cell-laden 3D hydrogel microwell arrays as tumor microenvironment model for studying stiffness dependent stromal cell-cancer interactions”, Biomaterials (2018).

DOI: 10.1016/j.biomaterials.2018.04.001 


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