Research conducted by scientists at Washington University’s School of Medicine in St. Louis has improved understanding of the origins of cancers.
While a great deal of research has been performed on the role stem cells play in the development of cancers, few studies have looked at the role of mature cells.
The researchers studied the role mature cells could plat in the development of cancer, and discovered that mature cells can return to a state similar to that seen in rapidly dividing stem cells, and by doing so, create problems that could lead to the formation of tumors.
Currently, most cancer treatments are focused on rapidly dividing cells such as stem cells. By attacking those cells, it is possible to halt the development of cancer. However, as the researchers have discovered, if mature cells are recruited to treat injuries instead of stem cells, cancers could easily return. Since cancer therapies do not target mature cells with stem-cell like behavior, they could lead to the development of precancerous lesions, and ultimately cancer.
In the study, the researchers studied mice with injuries to the stomach and blocked their ability to call on stem cells to repair the injuries. Without stem cells, mature cells reverted to stem-cell like conditions and started dividing rapidly. The researchers focused on the stomach as its anatomy makes it much easier to differentiate between mature cells that perform specific tasks and stem cells.
Even when stem cells were unavailable, the mice still developed a precancerous condition as mature cells had reverted to a stem-cell like state. The researchers also analyzed tissue samples from 10 people with stomach cancer and discovered that mature cells had similarly reverted to a stem cell-like state, and had started to alter and divide rapidly.
“Knowing these cells are leading to increased cancer risk may allow us to find drugs to keep mature cells from starting to divide and multiply,” said Jason Mills, senior investigator and professor of Medicine in the Gastroenterology division of Washington University’s School of Medicine. “That may be important in preventing cancer not only in the stomach and GI tract but throughout the body.”
Jason and his team are now looking at drugs that could potentially be used to prevent mature cells from proliferating, dividing, and causing a precancerous condition.