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Discoveries thrust cancer-initiating stem cells into a larger role in cancer biology and treatment

LOS ANGELES -- Recent discoveries about the role of stem cells in cancer have altered the landscape of cancer research. With each new study, scientists are learning more about cancer-initiating properties of stem cells at organ sites and throughout the body. Increasingly, stem cells are examined as the cause and potential target of treatment for many, if not all, cancers. At the 2007 Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, researchers present new discoveries about stem cells in leukemia, breast and colon cancer that add to the growing evidence that perhaps cancer is, fundamentally, a stem cell problem.

PTEN and HER2 regulate self-renewal and invasion of human mammary stem cells: Abstract 1287

Two genes associated with aggressive breast cancer are linked to a key property of mammary stem cell function, according to researchers at the University of Michigan. The genes, PTEN and HER2, both are involved in the biochemical pathways that mediate stem cell self-renewal, a defining property of stem cells.

According to the researchers, understanding the pathways that regulate stem cell self-renewal is important in developing therapeutics that target the tumor stem cell pool. These genes might also become targets of interest in the treatment of tumors resistant to the drug Herceptin.

"We now believe that our results show further evidence that breast cancer arises from signaling errors in the biochemical pathways that control mammary stem cell self-renewal" said Hasan Korkaya, D.V.M., Ph.D., a research fellow at the University of Michigans Comprehensive Cancer Center. "Since only stem cells have the ability to self-renew, deregulation of either PTEN or HER2 expands the stem cell populations with self-renewing ability."

According to Korkaya, cells with deregulated or increased self-renewing ability will then initiate and maintain tumors that are resistant to current therapies.

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Contact: Staci Vernick Goldberg
goldberg@aacr.org
267-646-0616
American Association for Cancer Research
18-Apr-2007


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