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Stem cells help in the understanding of drug-resistant, recurrent tumors

Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers have zeroed in on ovarian cancer stem cells that make the management of tumors all the more complex. Getting into the nuances of the stem like traits of cells will assist in developing better ways to combat ovarian cancer. //

"We feel these stem-like cancer cells may be resistant to traditional chemotherapy and could be responsible for the ultimately fatal drug-resistant recurrence that is characteristic of ovarian cancer," says Paul Szotek, MD, of the MGH Pediatric Surgical Research Laboratories, first author of the PNAS report. "We believe this likely is the first time stem-like cells have been found in models of ovarian cancer and in cells associated with human ovarian cancer."

Several recent studies have identified tiny populations of tumor cells that appear to act like stem cells, driving the tumor's ability to grow and spread. If some of these specialized cells escaped destruction by chemotherapy or radiation, the tumor would be able to recur quickly, often in a form resistant to chemotherapy. Similar cancer stem cells have been previously identified in leukemia and breast cancer and in cell lines of central nervous system and gastrointestinal tumors.

Standard treatment for ovarian cancer – surgical removal of all involved tissues followed by chemotherapy – usually appears successful, but treatment-resistant tumors recur in the vast majority of patients, leading to a five-year survival rate of less than 30 percent. Those factors and other observations suggested that cancer stem cells may also be found with ovarian tumors, leading to the current study.

The MGH researchers first examined two mouse ovarian cancer cell lines and identified cells with characteristics of the cancer stem cells found with other tumors. They then observed a small percentage of stem-like cells in human ovarian cancer lines and in cells taken from ascites fluid that had accumulated within t
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