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Promise and Progress - Origin of Multiple Myeloma Found in Rare Stem Cell

Faces of Childhood Cancer

Origin of Multiple Myeloma Found in Rare Stem Cell

Date: June 1, 2004

Blood, December 2003


Investigators have identified a stem cell most likely responsible for the development of multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow that destroys bone tissue. Their findings suggest that long-term cures for this disease will likely involve targeting this stem cell. A stem cell, unlike other cells, can copy itself and differentiate into one or more specialized cell types. Current treatments target malignant plasma cells and may miss errant multiple myeloma stem cells, allowing the cancer to come back, according to Richard Jones, M.D., who led the study. He uncovered the rare stem cell, occurring in less than 1 percent of myeloma cells, when he and colleagues were searching for the cause of high recurrence rates in multiple myeloma following drug treatment. “Most therapies today are aimed at the cancer you can see, but to cure cancer, you have to go after the cells responsible for the disease,” says Jones. He likens it to killing a weed by treating the roots, not just the part above ground. He says, “If you cut off the flower and the stem of a dandelion, it may look like it has died for a period of time, but the weed will eventually grow back. If you get the root, the seed does not grow back.” Jones suggests that successful multiple myeloma treatment may include two therapies—one to kill plasma cells, the visible part of the weed, and one to kill the root, the multiple myeloma stem cells.

This research was funded by the National Cancer Institute.

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