Part I: Half the secret of the cell is outside of the cell
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How can trillions of cells all with the same genetic information coordinate to form a complex organism? To address this question, Bissell uses the mammary gland as an experimental “organism”.
In early work, she found that cells isolated from mammary tissue and cultured on plastic rapidly lost all structural organization while those cultured in the presence of extracellular matrix molecules maintained their complex 3-dimensional structure; evidence for the importance of ECM in maintaining normal tissue structure. Bissell proceeded to demonstrate that ECM components are key in determining the development of a normal or malignant phenotype irrespective of genotype.
Mina Bissell completed her undergraduate degree in chemistry at Radcliffe College and her PhD in bacteriology at Harvard Medical School. She then moved to the University of California, Berkeley for post-doctoral studies. Bissell started her own lab at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and she has remained there for 30 years. Bissell is now a Distinguished Scientist in the Life Sciences Division.
Bissell’s work focuses on the role of environment in determining cell phenotype. Much of her work has been done on breast tissue where her lab has pioneered studies on the role of the extracellular matrix in determining whether or not cells will develop a malignant or normal phenotype.
Bissell has received numerous awards for her contributions to breast cancer research including the Breast Cancer Research Foundation’s Jill Rose Award and the American Cancer Society’s Medal of Honor. Bissell is also an elected fellow of the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society of Chemistry.
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Recommended Reading Of microenvironments and mammary stem cells. LaBarge MA, Petersen OW, Bissell MJ. Stem Cell Rev. 2007 Jun;3(2):137-46. Review.
Unraveling the microenvironmental influences on the normal mammary gland and breast cancer. Weigelt B, Bissell MJ. Semin Cancer Biol. 2008 Oct;18(5):311-21.Epub 2008 Mar 26. Review.
Why don't we get more cancer? A proposed role of the microenvironment in restraining cancer progression. Bissell MJ, Hines WC. Nat Med. 2011 Mar;17(3):320-9. Review.