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New tool illuminates connections between stem cells and cancer
Date:2/20/2010

cells, and then reassembling them to understand how they interact. Now, for the first time, they've accomplished that feat with human tissue. Importantly, they've also engineered specific genetic changes into human prostate stem cells to transform them into cancer cells.

The group is in the early stages of putting the technique to use, but Witte says it offers some distinct advantages for developing new cancer drugs. Cells can be grown directly from a prostate tumor for use in experiments, but without knowing the precise genetics of those cells, scientists may never know why they became cancerous. Drugs that are effective in stopping their growth may not have the same impact on prostate tumors driven by different gene mutations. Starting from prostate stem cells, Witte knows exactly which genetic changes have made a cell cancerous.

"Here you can preprogram the genetic buffet, and then evaluate a compound in the face of those specific changes," says Witte.

That precision should speed the development of a new generation of fine-tuned cancer therapies. The new system should give scientists a firmer grasp of the genetic makeup of cells that are affected by particular compounds, and by extension, help clinicians identify the drugs that will best help particular patients. "The field of cancer research has produced a significant number of major new targeted therapies," says Witte. "Now we have to understand how best to use those therapies."


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Contact: Jennifer Michalowski
michalow@hhmi.org
301-215-8576
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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