Cancer cell discovery could revolutionise treatment

Identification of stem cells enables therapies targeting cells that promote tumour growth

Scientists have discovered direct evidence to support a controversial hypothesis about the growth of cancerous tumours which could revolutionise the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

The conventional view of cancer is that it results from genetic mutations within ordinary cells that cause them to divide uncontrollably into a tumour that can then spread to other parts of the body. This suggests all cancer cells are created equal with an equal capacity for dividing uncontrollably and an equal tendency to spread. However, three independent studies have now shown this to be a myth.

The scientists found that there is a hierarchy of cancer cells within a solid tumour and at the top of the hierarchy are key "cancer stem cells" that are ultimately responsible for causing a tumour to grow and develop.

Although the existence of cancer stem cells has been postulated for many years, this is the first time that scientists have been able to demonstrate that they exist within solid tumours growing in their natural state, scientists said.

Showing that cancer stem cells exist means that treatments should be focused on killing these cells rather than targeting the wider community of tumour cells, said Luis Parada, of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre in Dallas. "In the past we've tried to get rid of the entire stew of cells within cancer tumours. Now we know that it's a particular bit of the stew that we should try to get rid of," he said.

"Shrinking a tumour by 50 per cent is irrelevant. What you need to know is whether you're targeting the stem cells that allow a tumour to regrow. The good news is that we know what to go after."

The existence of cancer stem cells has been a controversial topic with some specialists rejecting the idea outright. However, in recent years there has been good evidence that they exist for so-called "liquid" tumours, the blood cancers. Now, three independent groups have found direct evidence for cancer stem cells in solid tumours of the brain, skin and digestive system. They have published their findings simultaneously in the journals Nature and Science.

Hugo Snippert, of Utrecht University in the Netherlands, who discovered cancer stem cells in intestinal tumours growing in mice, said the conventional idea of tumours is incorrect.

"Tumour are like caricatures of the tissues from which they were derived. They are composed of different cell types and there is a hierarchy between the types. Like normal tissues have healthy stem cells, tumours have cancer stem cells at the basis of their cellular turnover," Dr Snippert said.

"If we want to treat cancer it is of the utmost importance that the population of cancer stem cells is included in the treatment, otherwise the tumour will grow back."

Dr Parada's work, which was based on studying brain tumours in mice, found that there was a sub-set of tumours cells that grow more slowly than other tumour cells but which allow the tumour continually to replenish itself following treatment with anti-cancer drugs.

Suggested Topics
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
Boris Johnson may be manoeuvring to succeed David Cameron
i100
News
His band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionPart of 'best-selling' Demeter scent range
News
i100
Sport
Tom Cleverley
footballLoan move comes 17 hours after close of transfer window
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Assistant Management Accountant -S/West London - £30k - £35k

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: We are working with an exciting orga...

    Deputy Education Manager

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Deputy Education Manager required, S...

    Bookkeeper -South West London - £25k - £30k

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: We are working with an exciting orga...

    Project Officer (HMP Brixton Mentoring Project)

    £24,000 per annum pro rata (21 hours per week): Belong: Work as part of a cutt...

    Day In a Page

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering