Lab Canada

BC researchers discover human breast stem cells that regrow mammary tissue

Vancouver, BC – A team of scientists at the BC Cancer Agency have made an important advance for breast cancer. Published this week in the medical journal, Nature Medicine, the study shows that the normal female breast contains a population of breast stem cells – each being able to regrow a complete miniature, milk-producing mammary gland after being transplanted into a special type of mouse. Many investigators believe these normal breast stem cells are the culprits that start to form breast cancers.


“We are excited to have developed an approach that, for the first time, makes it possible to detect the long suspected stem cell of the normal human breast,” says Peter Eirew, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in genetics at the BC Cancer Agency’s Terry Fox Lab and University of British Columbia.


The study is also significant because it involved the development of a novel method for detecting human breast stem cells. First the cells are suspended in a gelatin disc and then the disc is slipped under the kidney capsule of mice that have no immune system. The human cells then self-organize into little functional mammary glands fed by a blood supply that is provided by the mouse.


“The long-term aim is to figure out what makes normal breast stem cells tick and then use this information to see what may be high-jacked or distorted when these cells become malignant,” says co-author Dr Samuel Aparicio, of the BC Cancer Agency.