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Studies Further 'Cancer Stem Cell Hypothesis'


If this proves true, it could provide a new way to prevent or cure the disease.

Each study also addresses an issue that has long concerned skeptics of the stem cell hypothesis — whether the process of sorting out cells from cancer biopsies so that they can be observed might change their behavior.

In the study involving brain tumors, published in the Aug. 1 online issue of Nature, a team led by Luis Parada of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas (US), studied an aggressive, lethal form of human brain cancer called glioblastoma multiforme in genetically bred mice. The cancer is usually fatal within a year of diagnosis.

The team genetically labeled particular cells in the tumor and then attacked it with a chemotherapy agent used to treat humans. The chemotherapy stopped the growth, but after treatment was halted the cancer grew back. A molecular analysis showed the tumors recurred because a small number of stem cells clustered within the brain tissue began dividing, producing new tumor cells. But when a group of mice with glioblastoma were given both chemotherapy and a drug that destroyed the stem cells in their brain tissue, the researchers reported that their cancer was cured.

In a second Nature study, also published Aug. 1, a team of researchers from the Wellcome Trust Cancer Research Institute in Britain and the Free University of Brussels, led by Cedric Blanpain, looked at the role of master cells in the development of a form of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. The study revealed two patterns of cell division and pointed to a subtype of cells that consistently produced new cells.

Meanwhile, a study also released online Aug. 1, this time in Science, used mouse models to provide direct, functional evidence for the presence of stem cell activity within primary intestinal adenomas, a precursor to colon cancer. That study was led by Hans Clevers at the Hubrecht Institute in Utrecht, the Netherlands.

The researchers in all three studies say they next plan to concentrate on learning how the cells tracked in their experiments relate to putative cancer stem cells.

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