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Stem cells may be key to understanding the origins of colon cancer and detecting relapse
Date:3/17/2011

self hierarchically, in such a way that only specific cells, "tumour stem cells", are able to initiate and propagate the cancer.

What is it about stem cells that allows them to promote cancer? By definition, stem cells renew tissues, including in this case the intestinal epithelium, and can produce up to 5 grams of intestinal epithelial cells each day. Scientists believe that tumours may exploit the capacity of these cells to renew indefinitely in order to grow and spread. Furthermore, while the majority of cells have an average lifespan of days, as in the case of intestinal epithelial cells, or even months, stem cells survive for many years, increasing the probability that their DNA will accumulate damage and that they will turn cancerous.

One of the biggest hurdles that oncologists face is a lack of tools to identify which patients have a higher risk of relapse. Discovering a close relation between intestinal stem cells and the propagation of cancer is a clear breakthrough in this respect. The hypothesis that colorectal cancer requires a specific type of cell to develop and thrive has also been demonstrated in other types of cancer, including gliomas, some types of lymphoma or breast cancer. This finding opens the door for the development of treaments aimed at these new targets in the fight against cancer: tumour stem cells.


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Contact: Nuria Noriega
nuria.noriega@irbbarcelona.org
Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona)
Source:Eurekalert

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