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Reversing cancer cells to normal cells

In earlier work, Northwestern University scientist Mary J.C. Hendrix and colleagues discovered that aggressive melanoma cells (but not normal skin cells nor less aggressive melanoma cells) contain specific proteins similar to those found in embryonic stem cells. This groundbreaking work led to the first molecular classification of malignant melanoma and may help to explain how, by becoming more like unspecialized stem cells, the aggressive melanoma cell gained enhanced abilities to migrate, invade and metastasize while virtually undetected by the immune system.

Now, in the American Association of Anatomists plenary lecture and symposium, at Experimental Biology 2007 in Washington, DC, Dr. Hendrix describes new research that used an innovative experimental approach to provide unique insights into how scientists can change human metastatic melanoma cells back to normal-like skin cells - by exposing the tumor cells to the embryonic microenvironment of human embryonic stem cells, the zebra fish and the chick embryo.

Dr. Hendrixs plenary lecture on April 29 is a highlight of the scientific program of the American Association of Anatomists. Her presentation is titled "the convergence of embryonic and cancer signaling pathways: role in tumor cell plasticity." Plasticity refers to the ability of the tumor cell, like the embryonic cell, to express or change into multiple, different types of cells.

First, a quick primer on the shared characteristics of aggressive tumor cells and embryonic stem cells: Embryonic stem cells are pluripotent, meaning they are able to differentiate into any of the more than 200 cell types in the adult body. Which type of cell they become depends on the signals they receive from their microenvironment. Similarly, during cancer progression, malignant cells receive and release signals from their own microenvironment, cues that promote tumor growth and metastasis.

In order to better understand what sign
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Contact: Marla Paul
marla-paul@northwestern.edu
312-503-8928
Northwestern University
29-Apr-2007


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