University of Minnesota Cancer Center researcher David Kiang has received a 4-year, $509,000 grant from the National Cancer Institute to study how the molecular changes that occur during lactation can r from the National Cancer Institute to study how the molecular changes that occur during lactation can rereduce a woman's risk for breast cancer. Research has shown that lactation before age 20 reduces a woman's lifetime risk of breast cancer 40% to 50%, and Kiang hopes to develop a way to mimic lactation as a method of reducing breast cancer risk.
Kiang, a professor of medical oncology and director of the university's Breast Cancer Research Laboratory, said that breast cancer results from multiple genetic defects that accumulate during a woman's lifetime, often beginning during adolescent breast development.
"We know that during lactation there is a significant increase in communication among the mammary epithelial cells where breast cancer develops," he said. "The biological role of this increased communication is to get all [the] epithelial cells working together to produce milk. We believe this increased communication between precancerous cells and their surrounding normal cells at an early age may lead to a reduced risk of cancer." Kiang likens the process to a troubled youth being exposed to positive role models and activities at early ages.
Kiang and his colleagues are currently unraveling the crucial segment of the gene for the protein that controls the cellular communication channel. By developing a way to mimic lactation, the researchers hope to regulate the protein and to increase intercellular communication, thereby reproducing the beneficial effect of lactation without a woman actually going through the lactation process.