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Studying Cancer In 3-D

March 10, 2005

Our cells anchor themselves like buttons on a shirt to form tight connections with neighboring cells through a protein called E-cadherin.  Researchers have discovered over the years that when a mass of precancerous cells arises in our bodies, these cells often lose their ability to attach to each other because E-cadherin function is lost.  This key step occurs just before these cells break through the supporting, matrix-like basement membrane to spread to other tissues and become cancerous.  Given its fundamental importance in the cancer process, E-cadherin has been studied intensively for several years.  However, due to technical limitations, most laboratory data on the subject result from experiments in tissue culture, a flat, two-dimensional (2-D) surface.  This has raised the possibility that much of our current knowledge does not adequately reflect the true physiological behavior of cells in their normal, three-dimensional (3-D) space, a potential problem in understanding precisely how and when tumor cells lose their E-cadherin-mediated ability to connect to neighboring cells.  As published in March 1 issue of the journal Cancer Research, a team of NIDCR grantees studied the link between the loss of E-cadherin and its contribution to cancer progression in 3-D human tissue constructs that mimicked early squamous cell carcinoma.


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This page last updated: February 26, 2014