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The influence of tissue stiffness on breast cancer growth

  • Researcher: Dr Sirio Dupont
  • Institution: University of Padova, Italy
  • Award Amount: £225,500 for 3 years from 1st September 2015
  • Cancer Type: Breast Cancer
The influence of tissue stiffness on breast cancer growth
Breast cancer cells are able to release molecules that cause the surrounding breast tissue to stiffen. We know this helps the cancer cells to grow, spread and become more aggressive but scientists don’t fully understand how the breast cancer cells feel this stiffness.  Nor do we know what mechanisms are activated inside breast cancer cells in response to stiffness and this is what Dr Sirio Dupont’s Worldwide Cancer Research grant is aiming to find out.

Dr Dupont’s team have recently identified YAP and TAZ as two key factors that many cells use to ‘read’ the stiffness of their surroundings  and guide cell behaviour accordingly.  In other words, YAP and TAZ activity is controlled by ‘mechanical cues’.  Subsequent work identified other molecules that are important to link YAP and TAZ activity to other mechanical cues, such as capping and severing proteins.

He told us “Interestingly, YAP and TAZ can promote breast cancer cell growth and aggressiveness.  This lead us to hypothesize that the tissue stiffness might control breast cancer through capping and severing proteins and YAP and TAZ.” 

He continued “using mice, we propose to investigate the role of these molecules in the development of breast tumours, their aggressiveness and the spread and establishment of secondary cancers, the main life-threatening condition associated with breast cancer.”

He continued “Based on recent findings that suggest a direct regulation of capping and severing proteins by mechanical cues, we also propose to understand this regulation with the ultimate goal of finding new molecular mechanisms that could be used to specifically disable breast cancer growth and spread.”
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