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Rodent of the week: Social isolation worsens cancer

October 2, 2009 |  3:47 pm

Rodent_of_the_week Social isolation may alter certain gene expressions which promote the growth of cancer, researchers from the University of Chicago reported this week.

People have long wondered if one's social environment affects disease survival rates. Studies of cancer patients who participate support groups have had mixed results. The new study used mice predisposed to develop breast cancer to study the phenomenon. The mice were raised in one of two environments: isolation or in a group. In the isolated mice, the breast cancer tumors were larger, and those mice also had a disrupted stress hormone response.

The researchers then studied gene expression in the breast tissue of the isolated mice and found alterations in metabolic pathway genes that  promote cancer growth.

The study "illustrates that the social environment, and a social animal's response to that environment, can indeed alter the level of gene expression in a wide variety of tissues, not only the brain," the senior author of the study, Dr. Suzanne D. Conzen, said in a news release.

The research could lead to treatments that might reverse the molecular processes caused by social isolation. The study is published online in the journal Cancer Prevention Research.

-- Shari Roan

Photo: Advanced Cell Technology Inc.

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