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Spying on the earliest processes underlying normal tissue and cancer development

11 July 2022

Window of Change

Different tissues in our bodies form via a series of instructions. Unique combinations of these signals tell cells what to become. One pathway of proteins called Wnt provides important signals for many tissues, including the mammary gland. However, this crucial signal for ‘normal’ development is also implicated in breast cancers. So, how does Wnt turn from friend to foe? That’s still unclear, but visualising the earliest changes that lead to cancer could reveal clues. Researchers used a technique called intravital microscopy which provides a ‘window’ into a living animal to observe those changes in real time. The team saw how the cells reorganised in a mammary gland in pubertal mice when Wnt signals were permanently switched on. Over several days, these mutated cells (green) rapidly expanded to form nodules with an increased chance of transforming into cancer, compared to ‘normal’ cells (red). This imaging technique has enabled the earliest processes underlying tissue development and cancer to be revealed.

Written by Sophie Arthur

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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