How NASAs Search for Aliens Helped Detect Breast Cancer

Dr. Susan Love was exasperated.

Lovethe chief visionary officer of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, which is focused on breast cancer researchcouldnt figure out how to effectively study breast ducts, where breast cancer often begins. The ducts have a low biomass, taking up a barely readable amount of area and volume.

I got kind of frustrated that we didnt understand very much the anatomy of the breast, Love told The Daily Beast. It hasnt been studied very much. Theres been a study looking at the microbiomes of all the rest of the body, but not the breasts.

It turned out that NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory had a solutionin its Office of Planetary Protection, whose mission includes avoiding the biological contamination of environments that may obscure our ability to find life elsewhereif it exists.

When NASA sends spacecrafts to other planetary bodies and searches for signs of life, the agency follows strict non-contamination protocols to avoid spreading Earthly particles on foreign surfaces and vice versa. Thats important in giving us clear scientific results. Its also a big ask: The technology needs to be clean and able to analyze microscopic levels of biomass.

Thats where JPLs techniques like genomic sequencing came in. Love and her researchers needed a way to analyze DNA in the breasts ductal systems, which contains the glands that produce milk and secrete a substance called nipple aspirate fluid. After analyzing fluids from the breast ductal systems in women who had breast cancer history and women who didnt, researchers found that the community of microorganisms differed significantly between both groups. The presence of the genus Alistipes in the ductal system correlates with a higher chance of breast cancer, though whether these microbes actually cause breast cancer is not yet known. This was the first-ever study of microorganisms in human breast ductal fluid.

In space, these techniques for detecting life and analyzing DNA are used to look at microdiversity on clean or barren surfaces, such as a planet or a spacecraft. Its coolest attribute is the ability to tell whether potential signs of lifeliving or deadare around.

We can extract and look at all types of organisms. We have developed certain types of technology looking at microdiversity on extremely clean surfaces, Parag Vaishampayan, scientist at JPLs Biotechnology and Planetary Protection Group, said. Most of the time, we dont care if its living or dead, but for us, its important for us to understand if its living or not.

This, coincidentally, is also important when studying breast cancer. Currently, researchers must map the DNA from a sample, then subtract the human DNA to find the cancer thats left. However, there may be dead bacteria left over.

Researchers also found that healthy women with no history of breast cancer had higher levels of certain microbes than women with a history of breast cancer. Its possible that theres protective bacteria, but this needs to be investigated further.

The most interesting thing is the bacteria we found in our first study was higher in the healthy tissue compared to the disease tumor tissue, Delphine Lee, a dermatologist at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, said. We found the same bacteria in the nipple aspirate fluid. It was relatively higher in women who were healthy than women who have breast cancer. That doesnt mean anything yet, but that is intriguing. Perhaps you could introduce this bacteria down the duct.

Life detection tools werent the only technology used in breast cancer research. JPLs mapping technology can also be used in mapping the breast ductal systems.

When radar mapping in space, bodies of water appear jet black, so researchers must apply signal processing to map these bodies of water. Using this method, researchers could map the structure of the breast ductal system, even though it has fluids inside, and identify the duct where most breast cancers occur.

This study was part of the Medical Engineering Forum Initiative at NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, where JPL scientists worked with medical researchers. Right now, theyre working on applying for funding for further research to better understand the microbiomes in the breast ductal system.

JPLs mapping technology can potentially help detect signs of breast cancer early, as early detection is the best way to prevent it. Right now, researchers are still working on mapping analysis. Ultimately, Love would like to have a 3-D print made of breast ducts.

Breast cancer starts in the lining of the milk duct, Love said. When we do surgery, were pretty blind. If we have a map, we may even just be able to squirt something down the duct and wouldnt even have to operate.

Loves team is currently working on a portable ultrasound that women can use themselves to identify if a lump is benign or not. This could help prevent breast cancer, and Love says this could be a potential collaboration with JPL, as female astronauts could use it to screen themselves.

JPL, for its part, plans to continue collaborating with doctors, as NASAs tools and techniques can be applied to other fields of medical research as well. I believe that the space technology we develop here is not only for space science, Vaishampayan said. Breast cancer research is just one example. I think there are many more fields where we can work with medical researchers.

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Why Women With Early Signs of Breast Cancer Are Doing Nothing About It

In 2010, Donna Pinto was found to have abnormal cells within the milk ducts of her breast. She was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), a condition affecting more than 50,000 American women every year. DCIS isnt dangerous in itself, but it can increase the risk of later invasive breast cancer.

Against her first doctors opinion, Pinto opted for active surveillance for two years after her diagnosis. Then, when there were signs of growth, fear led Pinto to agree to one surgery and then two more, plus seven weeks of daily radiation. She still thinks all of itand particularly the fearwas unnecessary to treat what was always low-risk DCIS.

This diagnosis is devastating womens lives, destroying peoples sanity, said Pinto, who said she lost two years of her life to worry, at a time when she had two young children.

Thats because doctors arent quite sure what to do about DCIS, which is usually detected by mammogram. The mixed messages begin right after diagnosis: Women are told DCIS isnt full-blown cancerbut that they need surgery within the next two weeks. It really isnt anything to worry aboutbut it might turn aggressive and kill them. It probably will go nowherebut they should undergo five to seven weeks of radiation and five to 10 years of hormone therapy to be sure.

DCIS will never lead to life-threatening cancer for many or maybe even the vast majority of those women. But no one knows for sure what those odds are, or how to tell the women who dont need to worry from those who doand so virtually everyone with the diagnosis worries.

Now, a trial underway at dozens of cancer centers across the country is hoping to figure out how dangerous DCIS truly is and for whom. This trial and two others in Europe are exploring whether patients diagnosed with DCIS who seem to be at low risk for invasive cancer can afford to skip immediate treatment, opting instead for active surveillance.

We have better imaging. We have better pathology. We have these biomarkers. We know so much more about immunotherapy, said Dr. Shelley Hwang, the lead investigator of the American trial, called COMET for Comparison of Operative to Monitoring and Endocrine Therapy. But DCIS is still treated the same way it was 40 years ago. Is this really what we want to do for a non-invasive condition? I personally feel we can do better.

But that doesnt mean patients who were aggressively treated for DCIS in the past should second-guess their treatment, said Hwang, also chief of breast surgery at the Duke Cancer Institute. That was the best we had at the time.

In the COMET trial, paid for by the federally-funded Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, some women will be randomly assigned to get surgery, and some to get active surveillance, where they will have semi-annual mammograms to make sure there are no worrisome changes in their breasts.

The same kind of active surveillance approach is taken in prostate, thyroid, and other slow-growing, non-invasive cancer types, said Ann Partridge, an investigator on the trial and an oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

Cassandra Xanthos wanted the least invasive option when she was diagnosed with DCIS this past summer. She joined the trial in part because she was overwhelmed by the conflicting treatment information.

Xanthos, a 49-year-old Boston social worker, was randomly selected to undergo a lumpectomy. She and her radiation oncologist decided against radiation, but her doctor recently convinced her to try hormone therapy, to reduce the chances of a recurrence.

To take a pill every day for five years seems a little drastic, said Xanthos, who is still conflicted about how much treatment she should get for a condition that is likely to remain harmless.

To some degree, DCIS is a diagnosis of detection. Before mammograms, there were just few thousand DCIS diagnoses a year, Partridge said. Now, there are 50,000-60,000 a year. Thats probably a good thing for those patients for whom DCIS was going to turn into invasive cancer, she said, but not all those patients would have necessarily developed anything that ever would have been harmful to them.

Hwang said that people need to understand that cancer is not as black and white as theyve always believed.

Theres not that bright dividing line between cancer and non-cancer, she said. Theres a broad spectrum of cancerssome of which are definitely harmless, some of which will lethal, and others in between that may need to be treated but are unlikely to kill.

We should make patients question what the benefit of intervention would be for their particular condition, she said.

Going forward, the aim is to give women more choices, Hwang said. Some cant handle any uncertainty at all. They may still choose to have a mastectomy after a DCIS diagnosis, even after being told it wont increase their chance of survival. Others, like Xanthos and Pinto, will prefer minimal treatment. And others will want something in between.

To help a woman make the best choice for her, Rinaa Punglia, a radiation oncologist at Dana-Farber, is developing a digital decision aid that will be used in the COMET trial. Women will enter details about their diagnosis and information about their age, preferences, and risk tolerance, and the computer will give them the odds for recurrence with each different treatment approach: lumpectomy, lumpectomy with radiation and/or hormone therapy, and mastectomy.

It can be a challenging choice for women, Punglia said, because the survival odds are pretty similar among all the approaches. They still have very, very good outcomes no matter what they choose.

Although it may take another five years to get results, the COMET and other trials are designed to reveal the risks and benefits for active surveillance, as well. Then, women should be able to make an even better-informed choice, Punglia said.

For Donna Pinto, a patient advocate on COMET and founder of a website,, to support women with DCIS who want a less aggressive treatment approach, that choice cant come soon enough. This trial has been in my opinion long overdue.

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Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Wear A Bra, According To Science

October 13th is National No Bra Day, invented to promote breast cancer awareness and to help raise money for research.

Bras area divisive symbol; some consider them a ludicrous invention, others as a tool for emancipation. Scientifically speaking, the most notorious research on bras and breasts came out a couple of years ago.

Sport science researcherJean-Denis Rouillon, a professor based at the University of Franche-Comte in the eastern town of Besanon, led a team that conducted a 15-yearstudy on the effect of bras on 330 women aged 18 to 35.

The study was conducted at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire (University Hospital) in Besanon, and the team used a slide rule and a caliper to record the changes to the women’s breasts year in and year out.

The findings suggested that wearing a bra from an early age did nothing to help support the chest, reduce back pain or prevent breast sagging. Medically, physiologically, anatomically breasts gain no benefit from being denied gravity. On the contrary, they get saggier with a bra, Professor Rouillon told France Info in an interview.

The researchers believe that young women would gain more tone and supporting breast tissue if no bra were used. In the study, women that stopped wearing bras through choice, not as a requirement of the study hada 7-millimeter(0.3-inch) liftin their nipples whencompared withregular bra users. Bras, they claim, could hamper circulation and reduce breast tone over time.

“For younger women, not wearing a bra will lead to increased collagen production and elasticity, which improves lift in a developing breast,” saidDr. Stafford Broumand, who was not connected with the study,for Refinery29. Of course, many women wear bras for other reasons than to just reduce the sag of their breasts.

The team advises caution on drawing general conclusions from this research, as the women in the study are not representative of the population as a whole. Professor Rouillon believes more research is necessary to understand the potential impactspositive or negativethat bras may have, and admits these are very preliminary results. Moreover, although the findings were scheduled to be published, IFLScience was unable to find the paper in the literature.

[H/T: Counsel & Heal]

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Breast MRI


In order to be able to screen patients who are suspecting breast cancer, breast MRI is being resorted to be many doctors. In the modern day world, there has been a fair amount of advancement in the field of medical science and the same has ensured that ailments get discovered at the earliest. Getting to know of the existence of breast cancer in the early stages ensures that the same can be addressed and the patient treated for the same. A breast MRI has become one of the better and more sure shot ways of detecting breast cancer.

Breast MRI scan

What is breast MRI

Magnetic resonance imaging is the technique, which permits a detailed imaging of any body part, and the same can then be studied by a medical practitioner so as to check out for any anomalies. Once the MRI shows signs of any anomaly, further detailed tests as considered fit for that particular disease or ailment are considered. A person undergoing breast MRI is made to lie face down on a cushioned mattress with depressions for the breasts to fit in. These depressions have a network of magnetic lines for the MRI to take place.

Other ways to detect breast cancer

There are many ways other than breast MRI by which a person can come to know if she is infected with breast cancer. Ranging from self-examinations of the breasts to detailed mammograms, the list is indeed a long one. In the modern day world, where the generations are becoming increasingly aware and cautious of their health, the need for breast MRI is becoming a common one. It is this simple means of detecting the cancer of the breast that many lives have been saved and numerous practitioners are turning to this way of detecting the breast cancer on regular basis.

What all MRI can tell?

A breast MRI basically gives the doctor a set of images of the breast and these are thereafter used to form a composite picture by interpretation. The breast MRI results are quite accurate as far as the presence of cancer is concerned. Once the MRI result hints towards the presence of cancer, a biopsy is usually carried out to check for further confirmation. Once the same has been confirmed, steps to prevent further spread and ill effects of the cancer are taken. It is indeed one of the effective and sure shot ways of detecting the cases of breast cancer.


In order to be able to combat the ailment of breast cancer, there is a serious need to spread the awareness of the same. The methods of detection of the cancer such as mammograms, self-examinations and breast MRI must be readily available for the women. In addition, there must be ready availability of medical practitioners to study the reports and thereafter decide the way ahead to combat the cancer. It is due to the results of a successful breast MRI that many have been able to stop the cancer from spreading.

Detect Breast Cancer with Advanced Breast MRI Scan

Making best use of breast MRI scanning process will lead towards realizing advanced healthcare because of which you will be able to realize perfect health standards on the whole. Based upon a comprehensive imaging process involving magnetic resonance system, the latest breast MRI scanning process is known to detect the signs of breast cancer in women early. Obtaining an effective treatment based upon the results obtained will be helpful in realizing maximum health benefits as per the situation. This system has been developed in an incremental fashion with regular updates included resulting in the increased precision obtained regarding the detection of breast cancer as per the requirement.

Breast MRI

Maximum Sensitivity Levels from Breast MRI Scanning Process

Though different types of cancer detection systems are available, you should focus upon those methods that are known to offer you instant reprieve as per the requirements you got.  Perhaps, the signs that cannot be detected by ultrasound or mammography too can now be realized easily with MRI. The credibility remains with the sensitivity displayed by the magnetic resonance system internal to the process. Larger magnets are used in order to determine the effects of the radio frequencies because of which the progress could be effectively determined. Instead of taking chances with your health, it is better to obtain the best results.

Histopathologic cell structure could be effectively assessed with the consideration of advanced MRI scanning system based upon which the medical condition of breasts will be easily evaluated. Taking chances with any improper healthcare system is never needed because of the fact that breast cancer is a sensitive health problem, which needs to be handled immediately. Perhaps, you will be able to seek effective cure by holding discussions with your oncologists as per the requirement. Eventually, you get to maintain a perfect health condition in accordance with your body condition.

Differentiate Benign and Malignant Lesions with Breast MRI Scans

Identifying the extent to which the damage has been done in you is easily possible with the consideration of advanced MRI scanning process. For instance, you will be able to distinguish between benign and malignant lesions because of which it is possible to maintain the perfect health standards. MRI scanning methodology has been developed extensively in recent times due to which the success rate of detection has improved considerably. An alarming fact identified in recent times that most of the breast cancer cases are a result of cancer cases not being detected early.

By having an effective breast MRI on time from an experienced health expert, you will be able to ensure that perfect health benefits are obtained in the long run. Making changes to your lifestyle will be helpful in ensuring that you have lasting effects upon your body. Advanced medical technology too has to be considered in the first place in order to materialize the successful treatment offered to you. Moreover, it is necessary to have more awareness about the advanced breast MRI scanning process due to which you will be able to maintain perfect health condition as per the requirement.