A journey into the unexpected: a 3D view of Breast Cancer

Play Video





1. Summary of your research (300 words max)

My creative invention was the development of a new technique of three-dimensional (3D) imaging to visualise entire breast tissues down to a single-cell level. Providing an unprecedented view of this organ, has already led to surprising insights into the normal development of the mammary gland. Within the scope of breast cancer, the appeal of this powerful 3D imaging technique is to screen in close detail large areas of breast tissue to detect any abnormal cell behaviour that could lead to breast cancer. My great hope is to unravel unexpected cancerous traits, exploitable to develop new therapeutic strategies.
In addition, along with Caleb Dawson, a PhD student under my supervision, we have developed a display with 3D glasses to comprehend the real 3D nature of the tissues. In displaying data in such a visual way, we can engage people from the community into our common quest for women’s health. 

2. Any additional details you would like the public to know

Breast cancer remains a leading cause of cancer-related deaths in Australia, with 1 in 8 women being diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. Despite the improvement of breast cancer therapies over the last decade, patients still respond differently to treatments and can still relapse to more serious disease stages. This presents a real challenge and highlights the critical need for further research into how the mammary gland works and what factors lead to breast cancer. One of the best ways to investigate whole organs is by visualising them – this means using microscopes to image tissues down to a single cell level. I developed an innovative and completely novel imaging technique, which has enabled total penetration into the structure of the breast with unprecedented clarity and see every cell that constitutes the breast. While most of the routine imaging techniques used by scientists requires the destruction of the tissue to perform this analysis, this groundbreaking technique keeps the tissue intact, so we can truly see how cells arrange themselves and interact with each other in real life. We have successfully revealed, in 3D, the entire cell organisation that builds and shapes this organ. Furthermore, while visualising the architecture of breast tissues at every important stage of development,I have discovered a previously undescribed population of cells that are absolutely crucial to produce milk during lactation.
In a very exciting development, after several years of accumulating expertise, I have successfully enhanced the capability of this state-of-the-art visualisation methodology to image not only healthy breast tissues but also entire tumours. My next step is to map the differences between healthy and cancerous breast tissues, and my great hope is to discover previously undetected changes in cell behaviours, which we could exploit to design novel therapeutic strategies. There is great potential in the application of this single-cell 3D imaging technique to image others cancers and diseases, with the promise of unexpected and important discoveries.
Publications related to this work
1.    Rios A.C. et al., Essential role for a novel population of binucleated mammary epithelial cells in lactation. Nat Commun (2016), 7: 11400. doi: 10.1038/ncomms11400
2.    Fu N.Y., Rios A.C. et al., EGF-mediated induction of Mcl-1 at the switch to lactation is essential for alveolar cell survival, Nat Cell Biol (2015), 17: 365-75.
3.    Rios A.C. et al., In situ identification of bipotent stem cells in the mammary gland. Nature(2014), 506: 322-327.

Voters Map



No discussion yet, be the first one to comment


Dr Anne Rios hopes her life’s passion for imaging and filming will help to answer key questions about how breast cancer starts and spreads. Dr Rios, from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) ...