"Squeezing" malignant breast cancer cells could help to guide them back to a normal growth pattern, according to new research from UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Instead of the typical drug-focused methods, the manipulation of cell development through physical force shows for the first time that "mechanical" pressure alone can revert and stop the out-of-control growth of cancer cells," the university wrote in a release.
The school noted that the genetic mutations behind the malignancy remain, "setting up a nature-versus-nurture battle in determining a cell’s fate."
Researchers are not touting compression as a cure or treatment, however. “Compression, in and of itself, is not likely to be a therapy,” cautioned Daniel Fletcher, professor of bioengineering at Berkeley and faculty scientist at the Berkeley Lab, in the statement. “But this does give us new clues to track down the molecules and structures that could eventually be targeted for therapies.”
For the experiment, scientists grew gelatin-encased malignant breast epithelial cells in flexible silicone chambers. The squishy housing allowed researchers to apply compression in the early stages of cell growth, the university said. The compressed malignant cells grew more organized and healthy-looking compared with the uncompressed malignant cells.
“People have known for centuries that physical force can influence our bodies,” researcher Gautham Venugopalan explained in the news release. “When we lift weights, our muscles get bigger. The force of gravity is essential to keeping our bones strong. Here we show that physical force can play a role in the growth — and reversion — of cancer cells.”
The scientists presented their findings Monday at the American Society for Cell Biology in San Francisco.
The announcement followed other recent developments in the fight against breast cancer. This week a study was reported that aggressive breast cancer was found to be less common in women who wait longer to have children. Women who put off childbirth at least 15 years after their first menstruation may decrease the risk of aggressive breast cancer by 60 percent, according to the study.
In October a biotech firm claimed it was developing a sensor-equipped bra that can detect breast cancer. If trials continue to be successful, Lifeline Biotechnologies said its First Warning Systems bra would be available in the U.S. in 2014.