The ultimate source of some cancers is embryonic cells. Research published in the June 24th Cell, a Cell Press publication, traces the precursor of deadly esophageal cancers to leftover embryonic cells found in all adults.
Some people with gastric reflux disease have a greater risk of developing esophageal cancer. These patients often have Barrett's esophagus, a condition in which intestinal-like cells appear in the esophagus. Esophageal cancers are difficult to treat and, together with gastric adenocarcinomas, kill more than a million people each year.
"A lot of cancers you can do little about, and new drugs are approved based on their ability to extend life by one or two months," said the senior author of this study, Frank McKeon of Harvard Medical School and the Genome Institute of Singapore. "Focus on the precursors of cancer may be our best hope for medicine. Here, we are looking at a precursor of a cancer precursor that is present in all of us."
"It's not clear that the embryonic stem cell precursors have any real purpose," says study author Wa Xian. "Methods to rid the body of those cells may therefore be the easiest and most cost-effective way to stop the disease before it even starts, particularly for those at the greatest risk."
The prevailing theory has been that the abnormal cells seen in Barrett's esophagus arise as the normal squamous stem cells "transcommit" in response to acid-reflux to a new, intestine-like fate. Using a mouse model of chronic acid-reflux disease, , Xian and McKeon now show that, even as embryos, the animals showed a vast expanse of intestine-like cells in their esophaguses with gene expression profiles very similar to those seen in Barrett's.
"The metaplasia developed very quickly, in a matter of days," Xian said. "This was shocking to us as we generally consider cancer precursors taking multiple genetic 'hits' and years to develop."
The speedy developmen
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