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New insights into origin of deadly cancer
Date:6/23/2011

Boston, MAResearchers have discovered a new mechanism for the origin of Barrett's esophagus, an intestine-like growth in the esophagus that is triggered by chronic acid reflux and often progresses to esophageal cancer. Studying mice, the researchers found that Barrett's esophagus arises not from mutant cells in the esophagus but rather a small group of previously overlooked cells present in all adults that can rapidly expand to cancer precursors when the normal esophagus is damaged by acid.

This research will be published online in the June 24th issue of Cell.

Decades of cancer research tells us that most of the common cancers begin with genetic changes that occur over a period of 15 to 20 years, in some cases leading to aggressive cancers. However, for a subset of cancers that appear to be linked to chronic inflammation, this model might not hold.

Barrett's esophagus, which was first described by the Australian surgeon Norman Barrett in 1950, affects two to four million Americans. In this condition, tissue forms in the esophagus that resembles the intestinal tissue normally located much farther down the digestive tract. As a result, a person's chances of developing a deadly esophageal adenocarcinoma increase by 50- to 150-fold. Late stage treatment is largely palliative, so it is important to understand how acid reflux triggers it in the first place.

Research from the laboratory of Frank McKeon, Harvard Medical School professor of cell biology, together with Wa Xian, a postdoctoral researcher at Brigham and Women's Hospital and the Institute of Medical Biology, Singapore, along with an international consortium including Christopher Crum, director of Women's and Perinatal Pathology at Brigham and Women's Hospital, has shown that Barrett's esophagus originates from a minor population of non-esophageal cells left over from early development.

For the past decade, McKeon and his laboratory have been using mouse
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Contact: David Cameron
david_cameron@hms.harvard.edu
617-432-0441
Harvard Medical School
Source:Eurekalert

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