In the past, evidence from leukaemia has helped to support the theory that cancer stem cells maintain the disease in patients. But until now researchers struggled to find proof of these stem cells in solid tumours, with the exception of breast cancer. In the 18 Nov 2004 issue of Nature (Vol. 432, No. 7015, pp. 396-401), an original study identifies brain tumour initiating cells and suggests them as new targets for more effective cancer therapies.
Peter Dirks and his colleagues have previously demonstrated that a functional hierarchy exists in this cell population in vitro. In this work, the team uses this information to induce brain cancer in mice, serially transplanting a specific subset of the tumour cells with stem-cell properties into the animals' forebrain to set off tumours in vivo. In light of this new evidence, the researchers make the case that bulky therapies may fail to target the tumour-initiating cells.
"The notion that tumour maintenance critically depends on a small set of cells with stem-cell-like behaviour may mean that a cancer cure ultimately has to target these cells," according to the introduction to a special Insight in this week's Nature that examines the relationship between cell division and cancer.
Peter Dirks (The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Canada)
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Michael F. Clarke (University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, MI, USA)
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(C) Nature press release.
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