Migrating Mammaries

Yeowza! Who knew that structural cells within your body are going on field trips? Raise your hands. No one? Well, neither did I. Last year we awarded a Doc Gurley Most Explosive Medical News of 2007 prize to a body (har) of work which shows that any woman who has ever been pregnant has male genes from the fetus’ father floating around inside her…forever! That was weird enough. Now we have a study that shows that normal breast cells can migrate to the lungs (in mice) and take up residence. In this case, for up to 16 weeks (heck, that’s like decades in mice years).  This latest research (published in the journal Science) was reported in both the Telegraph and BBC health news, with the better coverage at the Telegraph. The study was designed, and its results were interpreted, in terms of breast cancer potential, with new insights about how normal breast cells can migrate early and then turn cancerous years later, despite initial aggressive treatment. Those results are valid and important (but still a bit difficult to put to practical use today). However, if you combine these migrating breast cell results with the research showing fetal cells invading the mom and refusing to leave (talk about boomerang kids!), then this latest research raises all kinds of interesting questions about whether or not our organs actually just stay put. What keeps our cells where they should be? What if mammaries want to go on a jaunt? Is there a visa you have to get if you’re a liver cell? Who makes sure you return home and get back to work, instead of becoming a beachbum basking in the gentle breezes of the lung?  We’ve always assumed structural/organ cells are cemented in place. Now it’s starting to look like maybe they aren’t. Could a bladder cell have taken root in my cerebral cortex? Is that why whatever I think comes straight out my mouth – brain-incontinence? Can I get a sphincter up here? Hmm. Lots to ponder.

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