Dr. Mina Bissell’s career has been driven by challenging established paradigms in cellular and developmental biology. Through her research, Dr. Bissell showed that tissue architecture plays a dominant role in determining cell and tissue phenotype and proposed the model of ‘dynamic reciprocity’ (DR) between the extracellular matrix (ECM) and chromatin within the cell nucleus. Dynamic reciprocity refers to the ongoing, bidirectional interaction between cells and their microenvironment. She demonstrated that the ECM could regulate gene expression just as gene expression could regulate ECM, and that these two phenomena could occur concurrently in normal or diseased tissue.
She also developed 3D culture systems to study the interaction of the microenvironment and tissue organization and growth, using the mammary gland as a model.
Dr. Bissell’s model of dynamic reciprocity has been proven and thoroughly established since its proposal three decades ago and the implications have permeated every area of cell and cancer biology, with significant implications for current and future therapies. Dr. Bissell’s work has generated a fundamental and translationally crucial paradigm shift in our understanding of both normal and malignant tissues.
Her findings have had profound implications for cancer therapy by demonstrating that tumor cells can be influenced by their environment and are not just the product of their genetic mutations. For example, cells from the mammary glands grown in two-dimensional tissue cultures rapidly lose their identity, but once placed in proper three-dimensional microenvironments, they regain mammary form and function. This work presages the current excitement about generation of 3D tissue organoids and demonstrates Dr. Bissell’s creative and innovative approach to science.