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Researchers to grow 3D breast tissue in the lab to test impact of chemicals on breast cancer


Brunel University London research receives Breast Cancer UK funding for radical new way of testing for effects of chemicals on breast cancer cells

A team of scientists led by Dr Elisabete Silva at Brunel University London have been awarded a grant from Breast Cancer UK to look into the effects of combinations of low dose chemicals on the development of breast cancer.

Conventional in vitro testing is a method of testing chemicals in cells in the lab in a flat dish. Rather than employing this traditional 2D method, the team will be using an innovative 3D in vitro approach, where they grow cells which actually follow the shape of the tissue, as it would be found in the body. In this case, the team will be growing structures that resemble milk ducts where it is believed the majority of breast cancers occur.

This is the first time a 3D in vitro culture system has been used to test the effect of mixtures of chemicals on the early stages of cancer and has been chosen because cells in 3D mimic what happens in the body more closely than in traditional flat in vitro testing.

Low levels of these four chemicals will be analysed in combination: BPA or Bisphenol A, DDT, propylparaben and benzophenone-3.  These chemicals are found in our bodies at low levels already and are known to disrupt hormonal actions and functions in humans and wildlife. There is little evidence at present to suggest they are linked to breast cancer, however Dr Silva and team are part of a growing body of scientists who are investigating the link between chemicals in everyday life and the increase of cancers which cannot be explained by genetics and lifestyle risk factors.

Dr Silva and her team are looking at how these chemicals act together in different combinations at low levels and how they react with hormones like oestrogen which are naturally present in breast tissue. They will also map how cells react to the chemicals, and if they play a role in how cells become cancerous.

A specialist in the effect of chemicals in the human body, Dr Silva hopes this research will have an impact on regulation of chemicals in everyday life and help women make informed choices about the products they buy.

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