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Some Immature Brain Cells May Promote Tumors
Date:1/7/2008

But animal studies show cancer gene can be turned on and off

MONDAY, Jan. 7 (HealthDay News) -- Much like a child who becomes a bully while his peers are becoming thoughtful and kind, some immature brain cells go through an alteration in their development that allows them to grow into cancerous tissue, a new study finds.

National Cancer Institute (NCI) researchers have identified a chemical process that turns off the gene that prevents the growth of tumor tissue. The gene can be turned back on and the risk of tumor tissue reduced, said the team, which suggests a potential avenue for future cancer treatment research.

The cells in question are known as tumor-initiating cells with stem-like properties (TICs). These cells are thought to cause the aggressive brain cancer, glioblastoma multiforme, when there is a breakdown in the way in which the cells' genes are expressed. TICs behave like stem cells in many ways, but, instead of growing into healthy tissues, they grow into a tumor. Researchers have reported the presence of TICs in breast, colon, lung and brain cancers.

The NCI team used tumor tissue from people with glioblastoma multiforme to develop a cell that ignored the effects of two proteins -- bone morphogenetic protein-2 (BMP2) and ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF) -- that usually cause brain stem cells to grow. Instead, the cells partially responded to one protein (BMP2) and not the other, which the researchers explained as an immature, developing cell response.

When the researchers compared the behavior of the specially grown cells with normal neuronal stem cells, they learned that one of the genes that regulates the response to BMP2 was not working in the new cells. When they turned that gene on, the cells began to respond more normally and were less likely to grow into tumor tissue. Further study revealed that the gene was blocked by a chemical process called methylation, which is thought to be responsibl
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