One of life's deepest mysteries is gene expression: how cells with identical genetic programs differentiate during the maturation of complex organisms to become, for example, such diverse tissues as muscle, nerve, and the epithelium that covers body surfaces and lines organs. Accordingly, the generation of tissue specificity -- and its loss during malignancy -- are among the pivotal research themes in modern biology.

Life Sciences Division researchers are taking several approaches to study this intricate process. One of the most important has been to culture human and rodent mammary epithelial cells as systems for the study of normal growth, differentiation, and carcinogenic transformation. In particular, we are interested in the role of cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions in gene expression and differentiation in these systems. Since the development of mammary glands is subject to hormonal regulation, we are also interested in determining the relative importance of hormones versus cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions, as well as how the interplay among hormones and various cellular factors dictates mammary gene expression. Another approach to the same broad issue of differentiation and carcinogenesis is to use avian virus systems to study critical features of oncogene expression and the influence of environmental factors.

The Breast Cancer Research effort in Life Sciences Division at the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory entails more than 20 individual projects amounting to more than $16 million. These are funded by such organizations as the National Institutes of Health, University of California, US Army, DOE's Office of Biological and Environmental Research, and private industry.

This investment represents a wide diversity of disciplines, from instrumentation development for the early detection of breast tumors, to the study of the basic mechanisms of normal behavior of breast tissue and what triggers the progression toward malignancy.

For more information on our scientists' research, please visit the abstracts page.

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