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Genes That Allow Brain Cancer-Causing Stem Cells to Resist Treatment Identified

rgical Institute and chair of Cedars-Sinai’s Department of Neurosurgery. Cancer stem cells were first found in certain leukemias and in breast carcinomas. In 2004, shortly after cancer stem cells were identified in pediatric brain tumors, researchers at Cedars-Sinai’s Institute reported the first isolation of cancer stem cells in adult brain tumors.

“Gliomas that are treated with chemotherapy recur with renewed resilience and aggression. Although the drugs kill most of the cells in the tumor, cancer stem cells may be left behind. In this study, we provide the first evidence that cancer stem cells have a significant resistance to conventional chemotherapeutic agents. We also link this resistance to genes that are known to inhibit a cell death process called apoptosis,” said neurosurgeon John S. Yu, M.D., co-director of the Comprehensive Brain Tumor Program at Cedars-Sinai and senior author of the journal article.

Normal stem cells are “immature” cells that have the potential to become any of several types of cells. Cancer stem cells have the same multi-potent and self-renewing properties, but instead of producing healthy cells, they propagate cancer cells.

Part of the study included a comparison of cells taken from patients’ primary (first-onset) tumors with cells taken from recurring tumor after radiation, chemotherapy and/or immunotherapy. In each of the five cases examined, the recurrent tumors contained much higher concentrations of cancer stem cells, indicating that while many tumor cells may have died, treatment-resistant “source” cells survived and regenerated.

Another finding suggests that cancer stem cells are responsible not only for regeneration of tumor cells but also encourage their migration. Gliomas are extremely difficult to treat because they evade treatment and because they are highly invasive.

“The identification and study of brain cancer stem cells is providing insight into the way tum
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