Monday, August 6, 2012

The heart of cancer: Cancer stem cells shown to exist in three tumors

Back in 1994, a Canadian researcher named John Dick made a cancer discovery that kicked off what has been an 18 year debate. He found that for people with a certain kind of leukemia—called acute myelogenous leukemia—a small group of slow-dividing cells seem to be the source of all the other cancer cells. If a chemotherapy doesn’t eradicate these cells, which he called cancer stem cells, then the cancer will come back.

After his discovery in leukemia, groups including several CIRM grantees at Stanford University and UCLA started finding cancer stem cells in other forms of leukemia and, controversially, in solid tumors. Now that controversy seems to be over.

Three papers published last week in the journals Science and Nature show the presence of cancer stem cells in cancers of the brain, intestines and skin. The L.A. Times quotes CIRM grantee and cancer stem cell expert Owen Witte of UCLA:
"People can stop arguing. Now they can say, 'OK, the cells are here. We now need to know how to treat them.'”
CIRM had bet that cancer stem cells exist, investing heavily in research projects intending to find therapies for cancer that eradicate the cancer stem cells. One of those projects, led by UC San Diego scientist Catriona Jamieson, has already resulted in a clinical trial for a form of pre-leukemia. You can see a list of all CIRM cancer awards here.

Most cancer therapies destroy the fast-growing cells that make up the bulk of the disease. If the more slowly-dividing cancer stem cells survive that treatment, then the cancer will return. By showing that the cancer stem cells do exist scientists can focus their efforts on finding was of eradicating that very different population of cells.

This story from Stanford University has more background about the history of cancer stem cells.

Here is Catriona Jamieson describing cancer stem cells back in 2008.


1 comment:

  1. If You Wonder Why Medical CURES Are So Rare....

    This is the sort of breakthrough -- the possibility of an actual cure for a condition that has always been regarded as utterly incurable -- that you would think everyone would be jumping all over to test and develop, right?

    And why not?

    Faustman and her colleagues at Massachusetts General inBoston are working to get the vaccine to market. After their early findings in studies with mice, she said they tried to interest every major drugmaker in developing the vaccine as a possible cure for diabetes. All told her there wasn’t enough money to be made in a cure that used an inexpensive, generically available vaccine, Faustman said.

    Got it?

    It's not about people or health.

    It's about money.