Discovering how breast stem cells function reveals how they can contribute to breast cancer.

Professor Jane Visvader and Professor Geoff Lindeman led a team that discovered breast stem cells in 2006, but whether these stem cells can create all the cells lining the breast ducts has been a contentious issue in the field. The question is finally settled by the meticulous work of Dr Anne Rios and Dr Nai Yang Fu, working with Visvader and Lindeman.

Using three-dimensional imaging, Rios and Fu prove breast stem cells give rise to all the different cell types that make up the adult breast. Moreover, their research advances the team’s earlier discovery of the link between breast stem cells and cancer.

“These stem cells – and their ‘daughter’ progenitor cells – can live for such a long time and are capable of self renewing, so damage to their genetic code could lead to breast cancer 10 or 20 years later,” Lindeman says.

“This finding has important applications for our understanding of breast cancer. We hope that it will lead to the development of new treatment and diagnostic strategies in the clinic to help women with breast cancer in the future.”

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