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Targeting Cancer's Own Stem Cells to Fight Recurrence
Date:1/21/2009

In the lab, scientists used a virus to thwart tumor's comeback

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists have located a group of cancer stem cells or "tumor-initiating cells" which, when targeted with a reprogrammed herpes virus, are prevented from turning malignant.

The finding bolsters the theory that cancer harbors its own secret cache of stem cells that are resistant to conventional therapies and responsible for tumor re-emergence.

Eliminating these malingerers could be key in the fight against certain cancers, such as neuroblastoma, which was the focus of this study.

"This research and this line of research in general is very exciting," added Dr. L. Gerard Toussaint III, an assistant professor of neuroscience and experimental therapeutics at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine and a neurosurgeon with the Texas Brain and Spine Institute in Bryan. "Their approach is to genetically engineer a virus that would only be turned on in the stem cell population."

This type of virus-against-cancer therapy may be the next generation of anti-cancer treatments, he said.

The study was published online Jan. 21 in the journal PLoS (Public Library of Science) One.

Neuroblastomas, which develop in the nerve tissue of the adrenal gland, neck, chest or spinal cord, account for 8 percent to 10 percent of childhood cancers, the report stated. Remission is common, but so is relapse, and long-term survival in high-risk cases is less than 50 percent.

"The cancer often responds to chemotherapy and more often than not will shrink but too often it comes back," explained Dr. Jeffrey Toretsky, an associate professor of oncology and pediatrics at Georgetown's Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center in Washington, D.C. "The promise is that they will be able to successfully create some agent, a virus, that would be able to get at the cells responsible for regrowth."


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