Specifically looking at oral cancers, the team compared those cancers associated with human papillomavirus (HPV) and those not associated with the virus. Since cancer stem cells are believed to be associated with tumor recurrence, and patients with HPV-positive tumors have better outcomes from treatment, the researchers hypothesized that HPV-positive tumors would have fewer cancer stem cells.
They found just the opposite. The HPV-positive tumors had anywhere from 2.4 to 62 times more cancer stem cells than the virus free tumors.
HealthCanal ran the university’s press release that had a quote from the senior researcher, Quintin Pan:
We show that high levels of cancer stem cells are not necessarily associated with a worse prognosis in head and neck cancer, a finding that could have far-reaching implications for patient care.The team suggested that HPV-induced head and neck cancer may be highly curable because the cancer stem cells associated with it are different than with HPV-negative tumors and are more sensitive to therapy.
Sounds to me like they have set up another hypothesis that is ripe for testing.
CIRM funds a disease team that plans to begin a clinical trial in the next year or two using drugs to attack cancer stem cells in solid tumors.