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Discovery of good -- and bad -- liver stem cells raises possibility of new treatment
Date:2/8/2008

Many scientists believe up to 40 percent of liver cancer is caused by stem cells gone wild master cells in the organ that have lost all growth control. But, despite years spent looking, no one has ever found these liver cancer stem cells or even normal stem cells in the organ. Until now.

In the February 19, 2008 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center report discovering both types of stem cells, and by comparing their genetic signatures, they found evidence to suggest that a new type of experimental drug now being tested in other cancers might offer benefit in treating liver cancer.

In fact, preliminary results that have arisen from the current study indicate that use of the agent, a stat3 inhibitor, dramatically inhibited liver cancers in human cancer cell lines and mice.

After locating the cancer stem cells that help control development of these tumors, we were able to find a potential vulnerability that might form the basis of a new treatment for this disease - which is greatly needed, said the studys lead author, Lopa Mishra, M.D., Director of Cancer Genetics in the Department of Surgery at Georgetown University and the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Liver (hepatocellular) cancer is one of the most lethal and prevalent cancers in the world, and the number of cases diagnosed in the United States has risen sharply recently, Mishra said. Five-year survival is less than five percent because the only treatment that has shown any benefit is liver transplantation or surgery, but an operation to remove tumors is only possible when the cancer mass is very small. Unfortunately, most cancers are diagnosed when tumors are much larger, she said.

The findings culminate decades of research in Mishras laboratory into the genetic pathways important to development of liver cancer. An ear
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Contact: Karen Mallet
mallet.karen@gmail.com
414-312-7085
Georgetown University Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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