LAS CRUCES — After new epidemiological research found an increased risk of breast cancer associated with altered sleep patterns, a New Mexico State University researcher decided to further investigate the 24-hour biological rhythm in breast cells.
Although he has submitted three different grant proposals for continued research on this pattern, known as a circadian rhythm, and its influence on hormone levels within cells, Aaron Rowland, assistant professor of toxicology in the NMSU Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, said he has high hopes for the latest one, submitted to the U.S. Department of Defense in November for $75,000.
“Research suggests that each cell type exhibits a roughly 24-hour cycle which regulates important cellular functions like controlling hormone levels and cell fate,” Rowland said. “So far, these rhythms have been demonstrated in a small number of isolated populations of human cells derived from peripheral tissues like bone, fat, skin and liver cells. But no one has yet to demonstrate the circadian rhythm in cultured breast cells, those grown in a laboratory dish.”
Through the research, Rowland said he and his team hope to determine if disrupting these rhythms in cells plays a role in carcinogenesis — the process of normal cells transforming into cancerous ones.
So, Rowland said, when women alter their sleep pattern and the circadian rhythm, like when working a night shift for example, it can put them at higher risk of breast cancer.
This disruption was recently acknowledged by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer as potentially carcinogenic to humans.”It is possible that cellular changes in these rhythms alter the hormonal balance within cells, making them vulnerable,” Rowland said. “There is some indication already that a hormone involved in regulating circadian rhythms, melatonin, influences estrogen signaling. And changes in estrogen signaling have been linked to some forms of breast cancer.”