A protein that blocks the growth of aggressive human brain tumours in a mouse model has been identified. It's hoped the research will yield new treatments for glioblastomas, one of the most frequent and lethal of brain tumours, for which there is currently no cure.
It's thought that glioblastomas are maintained by so-called cancer stem cells - a small population of tumour cells that can generate copies of themselves and of all the other cell types that make up a tumour. In the 07 December 2006 issue of Nature (Vol. 444, No. 7120, pp. 761-765), Angelo L. Vescovi and colleagues now show that when mice, injected with human glioblastoma cells enriched for such cancer stem cells, are treated with a protein called bone morphogenetic protein 4 (BMP4), tumour growth is reduced.
The protein activates BMP receptors, which are also involved in normal development. But rather than killing the cancer stem cells, it seems that BMP4 pushes them to differentiate into benign, non-cancerous cells.
Angelo L. Vescovi (University of Milan Bicocca, Italy)
Peter B. Dirks (The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Canada)
(C) Nature press release.
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