Leading cancer researcher next speaker in LEC series

Posted: March 25, 2013

HOWELL – Dr. Mina Bissell, a leading cancer researcher, will be the second speaker in the Livingston Economic Club Luncheon Series.

The event is Thursday, May 16, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Johnson Center on the campus of Cleary University. Tickets are $45 or $320 for a table of eight. Tickets are available at www.cleary.edu/lec/tickets.

“This is an extraordinary opportunity for anyone touched by cancer,” said Farley, coordinator of the event. “Dr. Bissell has put the scientific community on notice that the way we look at cancer needs to change.”

Bissell, a distinguished scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, champions the idea that half of the key to cancer lies outside of the cell. For years, conventional wisdom was that cancer begins solely with DNA mutation that causes cells to run amok and reproduce uncontrollably.

A crucial part of cancer formation, Bissell believes, is not just what goes wrong inside the cell, but what goes wrong in the way it interacts with its extracellular matrix, the 3-D architecture that surrounds and supports the cell. If Bissell is right, her insight will revolutionize not only how cancer is understood and treated, but perhaps even what it means to have the disease. She champions a startling idea: that cancers can be reversed.

"Until very recently, people thought that once you became a mutated cancer cell you always behaved as a mutated cancer cell," she said.

Instead, Bissell and her group have shown, in lab cultures and in animals, that tumor cells with DNA mutations and active cancer genes could be induced to behave normally again by restoring their cellular architecture.

"That reversibility gives this hopeful view of cancer," Bissell says, although no one yet knows how to reformat solid tumor cells in a human patient. Still, she speaks of a day in which cancer is a nonlethal, chronic condition that can be kept in check with drugs.

Bissell was not the first to claim that a cell's microenvironment plays a role in the formation of tumors. But she showed how this happens, by proving that disturbances in the cell's environment can cause mutations. She has produced spectacular lab results to support her claim. Still, she modestly maintains that her most important contribution is that she hammered away at her point for thirty years.

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