The Promise of Cancer Stem Cells

The promise - the hoped for possibility - of cancer stem cells is that they represent a small, manageable, less complex range of biochemical targets to prevent and destroy cancer. The biotechnology of this year and next can flip genetic switches and safely destroy cells with specific markers - if we just know where to look, what to destroy, what to change.

The promise of cancer stem cells is that cancer has a simple, easily severed root. This may or may not be the case, but you can be sure that this path will be well explored over the next decade. Here is an example of the sort of result that makes cancer researchers excited:

Discovery of good -- and bad -- liver stem cells raises possibility of new treatment

Many scientists believe up to 40 percent of liver cancer is caused by stem cells gone wild - master cells in the organ that have lost all growth control. But, despite years spent looking, no one has ever found these liver "cancer stem cells" - or even normal stem cells in the organ. Until now.

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"After locating the cancer stem cells that help control development of these tumors, we were able to find a potential vulnerability that might form the basis of a new treatment for this disease - which is greatly needed," said the study’s lead author

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"We found that all of these [cancer] stem cells had lost TGF-beta,” she said. “Without the brakes that TGF-beta puts on cancer, the stem cells had turned into bad guys.”

The scientists turned to mouse models of liver cancer to see what would happen if they took out the "stemness" in the cancer stem cells and found that only 1 in 40 mice bred without a stat3 gene developed liver cancer. "But with the stat3 gene intact, 70 percent of mice developed the cancer."

Off switches for various different types of cancer - that prospect keeps researchers working hard to uncover, detail and understand more of our biochemistry.

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