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Semin Cancer Biol. 2008 Oct;18(5):311-21. doi: 10.1016/j.semcancer.2008.03.013. Epub 2008 Mar 26.

Unraveling the microenvironmental influences on the normal mammary gland and breast cancer.

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Life Sciences Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 1 Cyclotron Road, MS 977-225A, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.


The normal mammary gland and invasive breast tumors are both complex 'organs' composed of multiple cell types as well as extracellular matrix in three-dimensional (3D) space. Conventionally, both normal and malignant breast cells are studied in vitro as two-dimensional monolayers of epithelial cells, which results in the loss of structure and tissue function. Many laboratories are now investigating regulation of signaling function in the normal mammary gland using 3D cultures. However, it is also important to assay malignant breast cells ex vivo in a physiologically relevant environment to more closely mimic tumor architecture, signal transduction regulation and tumor behavior in vivo. Here we present the potential of these 3D models for drug testing, target validation and guidance of patient selection for clinical trials. We also argue that in order to get full insight into the biology of the normal and malignant breast, and to create in vivo-like models for therapeutic approaches in humans, we need to continue to create more complex heterotypic models to approach the full context the cells encounter in the human body.

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