LSU Health Research to Study Link Between Obesity, Breast Cancer in Real Time

Frank Lau, MD, associate professor in the Section of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine, has been awarded a grant by the Southeastern Society of Plastic Surgeons to improve the care and research of breast cancer and obesity.

“Obesity is a known risk factor for developing breast cancer, more than doubles the risk of death from breast cancer, and is linked to higher recurrence and unresponsiveness to chemotherapy in operable tumors,” said Lau.

To study this link, the Lau lab has teamed up with Elizabeth Martin, PhD, assistant professor in the LSU Department of Biological Engineering. Their multidisciplinary team will use two new research techniques. The first is a biomimetic, tissue-engineered 3D culture system that allows the researchers to observe the development of breast tumors outside of the body.

“We believe that our team is the first in the world to keep human breast tissue alive outside of the body,” Lau said. “This gives us the chance to directly observe how tumors may develop in real time, which in turn will yield new insights and strategies in the fight against breast cancer.”

Lau’s lab was also the first to keep white fat tissue alive outside of the body for up to eight weeks.

The second technology is a decellularization technique that will allow the scientists to look at the matrix architecture of the breast cancer tumors in higher detail than before.

The researchers will perform a four-way comparison between obese vs. lean, and aggressive vs. less aggressive breast cancer – obese with aggressive breast cancer, lean with aggressive breast cancer, obese with less aggressive breast cancer, and lean with less aggressive breast cancer.

“Using these techniques, we will study the extracellular matrix of breast cancer in hopes of identifying new targets and new medications for treating it,” Lau said.

According to the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program, an estimated 268,600 new cases of female breast cancer will be diagnosed in 2019 with an estimated 41,760 deaths. Approximately 12.8% of women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point during their lifetime, based on 2014-2016 data.

Breast cancer and obesity are two chronic diseases that disproportionately harm the underserved populations of Louisiana.