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Sick Kids researchers identify cancer stem cell for brain tumours

A research team at The Hospital for Sick Children (HSC) and the University of Toronto (U of T), led by Dr. Peter Dirks, has identified for the first time a cancer stem cell in both malignant and benign brain tumours. This discovery may change how brain tumours are studied and how this deadly condition is treated in the future. This research is reported in the September 15, 2003 issue of the scientific journal Cancer Research.

"The discovery of a cancer stem cell for brain tumours means that only a small number of cells in a brain tumour have the ability to drive tumour growth. Many current cancer therapies may fail because they do not kill the cancer-sustaining stem cells. We now have to work on designing therapies that will attack these stem cells," said Dr. Peter Dirks, an HSC neurosurgeon and scientist-track investigator in the Developmental Biology Research Program, and an assistant professor of Neurosurgery at U of T.

Brain tumours are the leading cause of cancer mortality in children and remain difficult to cure despite advances in surgery and drug treatments. In adults, most brain tumours are also amongst the most sinister of cancers with formidable resistance to most therapies.

"We found that cancer stem cells from different tumour types, from aggressive malignant tumours to more slow-growing benign ones, share similar properties to each other as well as to normal brain stem cells. This suggests that mutations that lead to cancer formation may have originated in the brain's own small numbers of stem cells," said Dr. Sheila Singh, the paper's lead author, an HSC neurosurgery resident and U of T graduate student who is enrolled in HSC's Clinician-Scientist Training Program.

The biology of the brain tumour stem cell may also shed light on metastases (tumour spread). The non-stem cells in the tumour may break off and spread, but may not be able to grow at distant sites. "It is possible that only the tumour stem cells will be ab
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Contact: Laura Greer
laura.greer@sickkids.ca
416-813-5046
University of Toronto
15-Sep-2003


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