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Published by TEDtalksDirector
July 16, 2012

For decades, researcher Mina Bissell pursued a revolutionary idea — that a cancer cell doesn’t automatically become a tumor, but rather, depends on surrounding cells (its microenvironment) for cues on how to develop. She shares the two key experiments that proved the prevailing wisdom about cancer growth was wrong.

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Mina Bissell studies how cancer interacts with our bodies, searching for clues to how cancer’s microenvironment influences its growth.

Why you should listen to her:

Mina Bissell’s groundbreaking research has proven that cancer is not only caused by cancer cells. It is caused by an interaction between cancer cells and the surrounding cellular micro-environment. In healthy bodies, normal tissue homeostasis and architecture inhibit the progression of cancers. But changes in the microenvironment–following an injury or a wound for instance–can shift the balance. This explains why many people harbor potentially malignant tumors in their bodies without knowing it and never develop cancer, and why tumors often develop when tissue is damaged or when the immune system is suppressed.

The converse can also be true. In a landmark 1997 experiment, mutated mammary cells, when dosed with an antibody and placed into a normal cellular micro-environment, behaved normally. This powerful insight from Bissell’s lab may lead to new ways of treating existing and preventing potential cancers.

“Bissell was not the first to claim that a cell’s microenvironment plays a role in the formation of tumors. But she showed how this happens…Still, she modestly maintains that her most important contribution is that she hammered away at her point for thirty years.”

Kara Platoni, East Bay Express

Quotes by Mina Bissell

““You take [mammary] cells, you put them in a dish, and within three days … they don’t make milk. They completely forget.””

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““Context overrides. In different contexts, cells do different things.””

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““Don’t be arrogant, because arrogance kills curiosity and passion.””

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““If it’s true that architecture is dominant, architecture restored to a cancer cell should make the cancer cell think it’s normal.””

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““[In cells,] form and function interact dynamically and reciprocally.””

Alexandra Bruce

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