Study charts breast cancer origins in mice

In collaboration with the Press Association

Scientists have uncovered new clues about the potential causes of breast cancer diversity in mice, according to research from Cardiff University.

“This research takes us one step closer to understanding why we see so much diversity in breast cancer" - Nell Barrie, Cancer Research UK

The study, which was part-funded by Cancer Research UK, could offer new ways to target that diversity through the development of more ‘personalised’ treatments in the future.

Cancer Research UK scientists have previously shown that breast cancer has at least 10 different forms. These can look and behave in very different ways, making them hard to treat with a single therapy.

The latest study, published in the Journal of Pathology, looked at what causes different types of breast cancer to form in mice.

The researchers – from the European Cancer Stem Cell Research Institute at Cardiff University – looked at the type of breast cancer formed by specific genetic errors, that are known to be linked to the disease, in two different cell types.

Lead researcher Dr Matt Smalley said: "We found that for cells originating in one of the cell types, so-called 'basal' cells, the cancers appeared the same no matter the genetic error.

"In contrast, for tumours originating in so-called 'oestrogen receptor negative luminal cells', the appearance of the cancers varied depending on the genetic errors used to generate them.”

Some of the breast cancers that formed in the mice were “remarkably” similar to common forms of breast cancer seen in women, Dr Smalley added.

“These results add to our understanding of the origins of breast cancer diversity and emphasise the importance of understanding the biology of this cell type to better understand how breast cancer develops,” he said.

Nell Barrie, senior science information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: "Our scientists have already helped re-define how we view cancer – showing that breast cancer is at least 10 different diseases, each with its own molecular fingerprint and weak spots.

“This research takes us one step closer to understanding why we see so much diversity in breast cancer, and will help expose each cancer's weakness so we can develop more effective and kinder treatments."

The research was funded by Breakthrough Breast Cancer and Cancer Research UK.

Copyright Press Association 2014


  • Melchor L, et al. (2014). Identification of Cellular and Genetic Drivers of Breast Cancer Heterogeneity in Genetically Engineered Mouse Tumour Models, The Journal of Pathology, DOI: