Mechanical stress: an unexplored factor in regulation of cell signaling in DCIS and early breast cancer progression

Breast cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths among women in Canada. Deaths caused by invasive breast cancer that metastasizes (spreads to other parts of the body) are mostly preceded by a pre-invasive stage of the disease called ductal carcinoma in-situ (DCIS). This early stage is the ideal target in prevention of invasive breast cancer. Research has confirmed that features of the molecular activity of normal wound healing may play an important role in the spread of cancer from one area of the body to another. As cancer develops within any organ there is disruption of normal tissue. This disruption is like a wound and the response is like a scar. This process results in new mechanical forces within the tissue that act like a stress on tumor cells and have the potential to strongly influence a large number of cellular processes associated with tumor growth and invasion. Dr. Jiaxu Wang is researching the role of mechanical stress on cancer cells. He is investigating which genes are altered by mechanical stress in breast cancer cells. Wang is also identifying genes that are specifically altered by mechanical stress but not by other forms of stress that are known to exist in cancer tissues, such as lack of oxygen, to determine if these genes can be used to measure mechanical stress in DCIS lesions. The research will contribute to a better understanding of the specific role of mechanical stress in breast cancer progression. Wang’s ultimate goal is to develop markers that can predict or provide targets for therapy to improve outcomes for women with pre-invasive and early breast cancer.