Examining how EDCs and a high fat diet affect breast cancer

Breast Cancer UK is pleased to announce the award of a new research grant to Dr Elisabete Silva. Dr Silva will examine the impact of complex mixtures of endocrine disrupting chemicals and a high saturated fat diet on early stages of breast cancer, using an exciting new three-dimensional breast cancer model system known as “Breast-on-chip”.

Dr Silva, along with colleagues, Drs Ruth MacKay, Sibylle Ermler and Emmanouil Karteris, have been awarded £43,360 to support the project, which will begin January 2020 and be carried out at Brunel University London.

Background and details of the research

Lifestyle factors and environmental contaminants, including endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), play a role in breast cancer development but human studies linking EDCs to cancer are often inconclusive. This is mainly because EDCs are studied individually and at concentrations that don’t match our day to day exposure. We are exposed to a cocktail of chemicals, which in combination, may have enhanced harmful effects.

Several studies support a link between a high fat diet and breast cancer, although this link is still debated as what lies behind this effect is unclear. A high fat diet may not on its own be a serious contributor to breast cancerbut its effect may be enhanced by the presence of EDCs in our bodies. The current project aims to address this knowledge gap. It will investigate the impact of complex mixtures of endocrine disrupting chemicals and saturated fats (as found in a high fact diet) on breast tissue development and growth and initiation of breast cancer.

Dr Silva’s research will use an innovative Breast-on-Chip methodology developed at Brunel University. It involves breast cells grown in three-dimensional culture in vitro. Different breast cell types are cultured in combination and subjected to a constant flow of media and nutrients designed to mimic the physical environment of breast tissue. This approach provides a more robust and representative alternative to current in vitro and in vivo methods.

The EDCs to be tested include bisphenol A (plastic component), PBDEs (flame retardants), parabens (preservatives), benzophenones (UV filters), DDT (pesticide), polychlorinated biphenyls (used in hydraulic fluids, now banned) and galaxolide (perfume). The three most common fatty acids (lauric, palmitic and steric acids) and EDCs will be tested at concentrations that have been measured previously in human breast tissue.

The research aims to understand the impact of combinations of chemical exposures and lifestyle factors on early stages of breast carcinogenesis. This will provide a framework for further public information and practical advice on ways to reduce exposure to factors that contribute to breast cancer risk.

 

Dr Silva’s research project “Multifactorial impacts on early breast carcinogenesis – assessing the combined effects of preventable factors on breast cancer using a novel Organ-On-a-Chip Platform” will begin in January 2020.


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