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Promise and Progress - 5 Cancer Stem Cells

The Time is Now - Supplement
Issue No. I

5 Cancer Stem Cells

By: Valerie Matthews-Mehl
Date: March 1, 2011


In the mid 2000s, when the term “cancer stem cell” was first introduced, the scientific community was divided on how to define it, and some were even uncertain that they even existed.  It was the Kimmel Cancer Center team of Drs. Richard Jones, William Matsui, and Carol Ann Huff, that moved the cancer stem cell from obscurity to mainstream initiating the first cancer stem cell-directed therapy for multiple myeloma. Simply put, stem cells are parent cells from which other cells arise.  Normal stem cells and cancer stem cells are really very similar except for one makes normal, mature tissue, while the other makes tumors.  Our researchers have helped prove that many cancers contain colonies of cancer stem cells that help them grow and spread. They are now working to prove that targeting cancer stem cells with new therapies will benefit patients. 

Targeting Brain Cancer Stem Cells
New brain cancer research by Charles Eberhart, M.D., Ph.D., focuses on a small population of cells called cancer stem cells that are believed to drive the growth and spread of certain cancers. These cells, while small in number, appear to be a major force in cell growth by evading anticancer drugs and perpetually giving rise to the larger number of cancer cells that make up the bulk of tumors. In a mouse model, Eberhart and team have used drugs to target and block a chemical pathway, called Notch, known to be important for cancer stem cell growth. The team used cells from glioblastomas, the most common brain cancer, to form neurospheres, clumps of cells that can only develop from stem cells. After treating the spheres with a drug that blocks the Notch pathway, more than 70 percent went away.

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