ANN ARBOR, Mich. Researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center have found a marker that can be used to identify stem cells in breast tumors, suggesting a potential simple test that could help determine the best treatment for breast cancer.
The finding also provides strong support for the hypothesis that a small number of cells, called cancer stem cells, are responsible for fueling a tumors growth.
U-M researchers were the first to discover stem cells in a solid tumor, finding them first in breast cancer. Generally, stem cells make up fewer than 5 percent of all the cells in a tumor, but they may be the key cells in cancer progression. The process of looking at the cell surface to identify stem cells, however, is too complex to apply to patient care.
In the new study, published in the November issue of Cell Stem Cell, the researchers found that cells from normal and cancerous breast tissue that had high levels of the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase activity, or ALDH, acted like breast stem cells. Further, of 577 human breast cancer tissue samples studied, those that expressed the specific form ALDH1 had the worst outcomes, suggesting this easily detected marker could be used to assess prognosis.
This study is a big step because it provides a marker thats easy to use in both normal and cancer cells. Clinical applications were really not possible with the previously described markers. The fact that ALDH1 was identified in stem/progenitor cells from both normal and cancer tissue lends support to the idea that those cells are the primary target of transformation to malignancy. We believe it is only a very small population of cells that really are capable of unlimited growth and therefore drive cancer recurrence and metastasis, says senior study author Gabriela Dontu, M.D., Ph.D., research assistant professor of internal medicine at the U-M Medical School.
Researchers used a reagent called ALDEFLUOR
|Contact: Nicole Fawcett|
University of Michigan Health System