San Diego Researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center have discovered that a gene associated with human breast stem cells can stimulate development of mammary cells by activating two critical cancer pathways. They say this finding, reported at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), provides new evidence that breast cancer can arise from stem cells and that targeting this gene might provide a new way to treat cancers of the breast as well as other tumor types.
This is the first time any role has been attributed to this gene, and it turns out to be one that is surprisingly powerful, says the studys lead author, Xiaoyang Wang, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow at Georgetowns Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Specifically, Wang and the researchers show for the first time that this gene, Musashi1 (Msi1), switches on Wnt and Notch cell signaling. Both of these pathways help control stem cell growth, and are known to be critically important to the development of many cancers.
Msi1 was named after a famous 17th century Japanese swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi, by Japanese researcher Hideyuki Okano, Ph.D., who identified it in fruit flies in 1994. Okano currently collaborates with the Georgetown scientists.
Recent studies have shown Msi1 to be a marker of human stem cells in general because it has been found in human breast, colon, brain, skin, and other cells, says Robert Glazer, Ph.D., a professor of Oncology and Pharmacology and the studys senior author.
So Glazer and Wang decided to probe the genes function. Msi1 is known to be a marker of stem cells, but no one knows what it does. We wanted to see if it had a function in the mammary gland, Glazer says.
They were especially interested in whether Msi1 is associated with cancer development because recent studies have suggested that stem cells may be the causative root of some cancers a notion that is vigorously debated amon
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Georgetown University Medical Center