Researchers have discovered that so-called cancer stem cells are responsible for the regrowth of tumours, solving one of the biggest controversies in cancer research and making what the researchers call a “paradigm shift” in the field.
Three separate studies have confirmed results that cancer stem cells are responsible for the regrowth of tumours. Published in the journals, Nature and Science, the research could prompt a new era for cancer studies and treatments.
Doctors are often able to reduce the size of tumours using various therapies, but patients often experience a regrowth of the tumour. There have been a lot of theories as to why this happens, with most researchers siding with the theory that regrowth occurs because therapies fail to eradicate a small proportion of cells that drive tumour growth known as cancer stem cells. They believe that these are the cells that should be targeted to eliminate the tumour forever.
Three separate groups of researchers working independently have now successfully managed to prove that cancer stem cells do indeed exist, and do drive tumour growth in brain, gut and skin cancers. The research suggests that the same could be true of all cancers which produce solid tumours.
Prof Cedric Blanpain of the Free University of Brussels, who led one of the studies, believes the results could pave the way for a new approach to treating many cancers. He told BBC News: “If these cells are indeed the cells that fuel tumour growth then maybe you can target these cells.”
This is easier said than done, as removing the newly-identified cancer stem cells could also destroy healthy tissues. Work will now concentrate on finding important differences between normal and cancer stem cells so that therapies can distinguish between them.
Either way, this is an important step forward in the field of cancer research, and one which could lead to big accomplishments in the future.