The vast majority of the thousands of chemicals in our homes and workplaces have not been tested to determine if they cause cancer. That’s because today’s options are lacking. Rodent tests are too slow, and cell culture tests don’t replicate how cells interact in the body, so their relevance to cancer is limited. Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have set out to change that.
They’re developing a more lifelike cell culture that could help researchers better identify chemicals that increase breast cancer susceptibility. The scientists will grow the culture using adult stem cells obtained from breast tissue, which has not been done before. Unlike today’s cell cultures, their test will show if a chemical causes a breakdown in cell-to-cell communication, which is a fundamental defect of cancer.
“There are many ways in which cells communicate, but these processes aren’t represented in conventional cell cultures that are composed of the same type of cell,” says Paul Yaswen, a staff scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Life Sciences Division who leads the effort with researchers from the Silent Spring Institute, Stanford University, and the University of Florida.
“But our cell cultures will have many different cell types, just like normal tissue, which will enable us to detect cell-to-cell communication as it occurs in the body,” says Yaswen.