Breast Cancer Metastasis Predictors in a New Mouse Model?

Principal investigator: Alana Welm, PhD

With support from the U.S. Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program and others, Welm discovered a way to graft human breast cancer tumor tissue from consenting breast cancer patients into mouse mammary glands. These grafts remain virtually identical in structure, genetic makeup, and behavior to the original human breast cancer tumors, unlike methods that rely on cell cultures.

alana welm
Alana Welm, PhD

"The most surprising result was that the tumor grafts spread from the original site, or metastasized, just as they did in human patients," said Welm. "For example, grafts of tumor tissue from patients whose cancer had spread to the lung also spread to the lungs of the mice that received them." These results show a strong potential for this model as a tool to identify a tumor's likelihood of spreading, which would help doctors choose the best treatment approach for individual patients. In addition, similar models for other cancers could be developed using this method. "We are already working on this with colon cancer tissues," says Welm. Results of this study were published in the journal Nature Medicine in October 2011.