You are here

Mina J. Bissell, PhD

Distinguished Scientist
Senior Advisor to the Laboratory Director
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Berkeley, California

Current Research

  • Seeking to understand the interactions between tumor cells and non-tumor cells and how these relationships affect tumor growth.
  • Laboratory studies are ongoing to understand the role of non-tumor factors in the tumor environment on tumor growth and metastasis.
  • Results from these studies will provide new clues for the development of novel strategies to prevent metastasis.
The tumor microenvironment is composed of both tumor cells and non-tumor cells that support normal tissue development and function. There are complex interactions that take place within the microenvironment that can prevent or promote tumor growth and spread. Dr. Bissell is conducting a series of laboratory studies aimed at understanding these interactions to identify potential targets to prevent or treat breast cancer metastasis.

Full Research Summary

Metastasis is the leading cause of death in breast cancer patients. How tumor cells leave the primary tumor, how they migrate to distant organs, what makes them lie dormant, and what happens to "awaken" them are unknown.

Dr. Bissell's laboratory pioneered the use of physiologically relevant 3D culture models to understand how components in the extracellular space signal to breast cells to keep them in a non-malignant state and what goes wrong in tumor progression and metastasis. A major focus of her work is on enzymes called matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). MMPs chop up proteins that make up tissue scaffolding, modifying the tissue architecture and changing how cells perceive their microenvironment.

In ongoing work, Dr. Bissell is exploring how exosomes–tiny packets of molecules shed from the cell surface–influence breast cancer progression and metastasis. Exosomes carry growth factors, enzymes (including MMPs), RNA, and DNA. Dr. Bissell's laboratory hopes to understand the difference in the composition of exosomes derived from normal vs. malignant breast cells and how different cargos of the exosomes affect breast epithelial cells and tumor cell dormancy and metastasis.

In the last year, she expanded the use of her 3D culture model to test the effects of environmental pollutants on breast cancer progression. She will continue to address these important questions to determine mechanisms of breast cancer progression and tumor cell dormancy. 

Results from these studies will provide novel avenues for therapies.


Dr. Bissell has been a visionary and pioneer in the area of the role of extracellular matrix (ECM) and microenvironment in regulation of tissue-specific gene expression with special emphasis in breast cancer, where she has changed a number of established paradigms. She earned an AB with honors in chemistry from Harvard College and a PhD in bacterial genetics from Harvard University. She joined the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in 1972, became Director of Cell & Molecular Biology in 1988, and was appointed Director of all of Life Sciences in 1992. Upon stepping down as the Life Sciences Division Director, she was named Distinguished Scientist.  She has authored more than 380 publications, is a member of nine international scientific boards, and is on the editorial board of a dozen scientific journals. She has given more than 130 ‘named and distinguished’ lectures and was both a Fogarty and Guggenheim Fellow. She is a recipient of numerous awards and honors including the E.O. Lawrence Award, Medal of Honor of the American Cancer Society and the Pezcoller-AACR award.

Dr. Bissell is an elected Fellow of the AAAS, the IOM, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Philosophical Society, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the National Academy of Sciences and the AACR Academy. She has received honorary doctorates from Pierre & Marie Curie University in Paris and the University of Copenhagen. She received BCRF's Jill Rose Award for research excellence in 2011.

Grid Reasercher Headshot - Bissell Minaa

BCRF Investigator Since


Donor Recognition

The ANN INC. Award (a division of ascena retail group inc.)

Area(s) of Focus