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Wellcome Image of the Month: Breast cancer

20 Oct, 2010

Breast cancer cells

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and in recognition this month’s Image of the Month is a scanning electron micrograph of breast cancer cells.

Breast cancer is the second biggest cause of death from cancer for women in the UK. Over 12,000 people die from the disease every year, and 46,000 people are diagnosed with it.

These breast cancer cells were imaged by Anne Weston, an electron microscopist at the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute (LRI).

As Anne explains, her work enables LRI researchers “to study cancer cells or tissues at very high resolution, to see what is happening inside and between cells, and to examine the differences between normal cells and those that have been genetically altered or treated with drugs.”

The Wellcome Trust has funded a large amount of breast cancer research, with the aim of better understanding this form of cancer and ultimately finding more effective treatments.

In 1994, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute sequenced the BRCA2 gene. Knowing the gene sequence of BRCA2 has helped scientists to work out the structure of the protein it produces. This is important in research that looks at the protein interactions involved in cancer. In 2010, a Seeding Drug Discovery award was given to researchers at University of Cambridge to design and make molecules that disrupt the interactions of the BRCA2 protein, which should make breast cancer cells more susceptible to damage by radiation, and directly induce their death.

In 2008, The Wellcome Trust announced it was to coordinate studies of different subtypes of breast cancer, as part of the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC). In May this year, scientists funded by Cancer Research UK and the Wellcome Trust found five new regions of the genome that increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer by between 6 and 16 per cent. Identification of these new regions could enable tests that help doctors make decisions about prevention, diagnosis and treatment for women who are more likely to get breast cancer.

Hopefully, in the future, images like the one above will not represent a deadly disease, but rather a condition that can be detected early and cured effectively.

For more information, see this post on the Cancer Research UK Science Blog

Louise Crane, Picture Researcher, Wellcome Images

Image credit: Anne Weston, LRI, CRUK/Wellcome Images
Wellcome Images is one of the world’s richest and most unique collections, with themes ranging from medical and social history to contemporary healthcare and biomedical science. All our images are available in digital form so please click the link above if you would like to use the picture that features in this post, or to quickly find related ones. Many are free to use non-commercially under the terms of a Creative Commons licence and full details of the specific licence for each image are provided.
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