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NBCF-funded researchers now have better understanding of early breast tissue development

January 30th, 2017

In a world-first, research funded by NBCF and published in the journal Stem Cell Reports, shows that there is a rare sub-set of cells within the breast stem cell compartment that are estrogen receptor (ER) positive – meaning they can directly receive estrogen signalling which is the hormone required for growth and expansion of the breast.

Mammary (breast) biologists had previously thought that mammary stem cells were estrogen receptor-negative – meaning they do not directly rely on estrogen to grow.

Studies had previously suggested that these stem cells responded to estrogen via their more mature neighbouring cells which develop during puberty.

Study author, Dr Kara Britt from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, says the research provides a new and deeper insight into why abnormal estrogen exposure might lead to breast cancer in some women.

“It is known that abnormal exposure to estrogen at a very young age can lead to an increased risk of developing breast cancer later in life. However, it has never been well understood why some people would develop breast cancer in their sixties from something that happened at such a young age.

“The presence of these estrogen-receptor positive stem cells in the mammary gland could be the key to understanding how estrogens can affect a person’s breast cancer risk from the very start of life.

“Having now discovered that there are estrogen-receptor positive mammary stem-cells, it’s possible we may not have been looking early enough in previous work to understand their impact on the development of a normal, or otherwise, mammary gland,” says Dr Britt.

If you would like to support breast cancer research like Dr Kara Britt’s, please donate.