Medical Technology

Dividing Stem Cells Spread Cancerous Tumors

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"Dividing Stem Cells Spread Cancerous Tumors"
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A new discovery has led medical researchers to conclude that stem cells often help spread tumors.

The UK Guardian reports that Dr. Clive Stanway, chief officer of Cancer Research Technology, asserts that "Stem cells are responsible for renewing tissue in the body. But sometimes they are subverted by cancerous processes. You can give a cancer patient radiotherapy or cut out their tumor surgically—but you can still leave a few affected stem cells behind. The person appears cured. Then the stem cells start dividing again and the tumor reappears."

The evidence that stem cells play such a crucial role in helping cancer re-emerge after intensive treatments to eradicate it from the body has led to the formation of a consortium of research groups. Cancer Research UK (CRUK), the United Kingdom's largest cancer charity is leading the groups' efforts to develop and bring to the market an array of new drugs targeting affected stem cells. It's believed such new drugs would be a potent weapon against the cells propensity to reactivate cancer and create new tumors.

Stem cells have been the subject of intense research over the past several decades. They're believed to hold the key to many effective therapies in the future dealing with a range of human maladies and conditions from genetic defects to traumas affecting the brain and spine.

Stem cells are the body's basic cell that can become virtually any other cell. They are the cells that transform into normal types of tissue such as blood vessels, skin, collagen, and more.

Some researchers are looking at the possibility of stem cell therapies that might promise the regrowth of severed limbs. Others are seeking ways that stem cells might overcome certain birth defects or chronic illnesses.

That stem cells can also further the advance of malignant tumors is a surprising downside that the intensive medical research has uncovered.

Scientists who are part of CRUK's effort announced during mid-January 2011 that they expect new drugs needed to treat the stem cells within 24 months. They expect clinical trials will follow the development of each new drug immediately. They indicated that their primary targets are skin and blood cancers.

Currently, drugs are being tested by the researchers in an effort to determine those that most effectively stop cellular division that advances the spread of cancer.

Drugs are being tested by CRUK researchers to find those that are best able to switch off cell division and the spread of cancer.

"Essentially, these drugs would tell these cells to stop growing and multiplying," explained Professor Fiona Watt, the deputy director of CRUK's Cambridge Research Institute arm.

Two types of stem cells exist: embryonic and adult. Embryonic are present at conception and all cells that follow are derived from them. On the other hand, adult stem cells are held by the body in reserve. They are called upon when new tissue is needed.

The project will use adult stem cells which are considered by most scientists to be the most efficacious.

More about this author: Terrence Aym

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