Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Spying on the earliest processes underlying normal tissue and cancer development

11 July 2022

Window of Change

Different tissues in our bodies form via a series of instructions. Unique combinations of these signals tell cells what to become. One pathway of proteins called Wnt provides important signals for many tissues, including the mammary gland. However, this crucial signal for ‘normal’ development is also implicated in breast cancers. So, how does Wnt turn from friend to foe? That’s still unclear, but visualising the earliest changes that lead to cancer could reveal clues. Researchers used a technique called intravital microscopy which provides a ‘window’ into a living animal to observe those changes in real time. The team saw how the cells reorganised in a mammary gland in pubertal mice when Wnt signals were permanently switched on. Over several days, these mutated cells (green) rapidly expanded to form nodules with an increased chance of transforming into cancer, compared to ‘normal’ cells (red). This imaging technique has enabled the earliest processes underlying tissue development and cancer to be revealed.

Written by Sophie Arthur

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