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UCLA cancer researchers develop model that may help identify cancer stem cells
Date:6/16/2009

Researchers at UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, on a quest to find lung cancer stem cells, have developed a unique model to allow further investigation into the cells that many believe may be at the root of all lung cancers.

If researchers could find a way to isolate and grow lung cancer stem cells, they could study their biologic mechanisms and perhaps identify targets for new therapies, said Raj Batra, an associate professor of medicine and a Jonsson Cancer Center scientist.

"What this model allows us to do is test, in patient specimens, which markers indicate the presence of lung cancer stem cells," said Batra, senior author of the study. "Our ultimate goal is to define lung cancer and the cells that cause it so we can develop more effective therapies."

The study appears in the June issue of PLoS One, a peer-reviewed journal of the Public Library of Science.

Two competing theories of how cancer originates have been weighed by scientists for decades. In one theory, all the cells of a tumor are the same, with an equal capacity to divide and form new tumors. The other theory holds that only a few, select cells from a tumor have the ability to initiate a new tumor - the cancer stem cells. In the last decade, scientists have been able to isolate leukemia stem cells as well as brain and breast cancer stem cells. Many scientists believe that most, if not all, cancers will one day be traced back to these stem cells.

Only a small percentage of cells in a tumor are cancer stem cells, making them hard to find and even more difficult to target. Current cancer therapies are designed to target dividing cells, and the treatments do kill the majority of the cancer cells. But cancer stem cells can lay dormant and survive chemotherapy as well as the molecularly targeted treatments now being used. Because they're not actively dividing, they're invisible to conventional treatment methods.

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Contact: Kim Irwin
kirwin@mednet.ucla.edu
310-206-2805
University of California - Los Angeles
Source:Eurekalert

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