Los Angeles | Scientists, including one of Indian-origin, have found a link between the breast ductal microbiome and breast cancer, using the planetary protection techniques employed in NASA spacecraft designed to ensure that they do not contaminate other worlds.
We applied these planetary protection techniques in the first-ever study of microorganisms in human breast ductal fluid, said Parag Vaishampayan, from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the US. The research found differences between the ductal fluid bacteria found in women who have experienced breast cancer, and the bacteria present in those who have not.
Researchers have previously documented the existence of bacteria in the breast tissue. The new study marks the first exploration of a link between the breast ductal microbiome and breast cancer.
The breast ductal system contains the glands that produce milk and naturally secretes a substance called nipple aspirate fluid that researchers studied. We don’t yet know nearly enough about healthy and cancerous breasts – neither the microbial landscape nor the anatomy of the breast duct system, said Susan Love, chief visionary officer of Dr Susan Love Research Foundation.
Yet, all breast cancer begins in the ducts, so clearly exploration is critical to discovering what causes breast cancer and how we can eradicate the disease, Love said. The researchers found that the community of microorganisms in breast ductal fluid differed significantly between two groups – 23 healthy women and 25 women who had a history of breast cancer and had gone through treatment.
It was then analysed with next-generation genomic sequencing, which has also been used for examining bacteria in NASA spacecraft assembly facilities. The new findings set the stage for further study on the role microbes may play in causing or preventing breast cancer.
They are in line with recent research studies that suggest microbes contribute to 16 per cent or more of malignancies worldwide. Though the study found a correlation between specific species of bacteria and women who have gone through breast cancer treatment, the cause of the bacterial population difference is unclear.
We have known for decades that our immune cells and the cells that line our organs’ surfaces can react to microbial components, said Delphine Lee, from the John Wayne Cancer Institute in the US.
These responses can trigger inflammation and immune responses, suggesting that this interaction might help the immune system monitor breast tissue for cancer, or that certain microbes could contribute to increased inflammation that leads to cancer development, Lee said.