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Stanford researchers find stem cells in colorectal tumors

STANFORD, Calif. -- Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have identified the cancer stem cells that propagate tumors in colon and rectal cancer, a discovery that could lead to improved treatment of this deadly cancer.

These are the latest class of cancer stem cells tracked down by a large, interdisciplinary group of researchers led by Michael Clarke, MD. The discovery is reported in the June 4 advance online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"This work will enable us to better understand how to identify these cells, and to do molecular studies to find potential new therapies," said Clarke, the senior author of the paper and the Karel H. and Avice N. Beekhuis Professor in Cancer Biology.

Clarke was the first to find cancer stem cells in a solid tumor - in this case, breast cancer - in 2003 while working at the University of Michigan. Since coming to Stanford in 2005, he joined existing efforts that have resulted in finding cancer stem cells in head and neck, pancreatic and now colorectal tumors.

These stem cells act like a spring at the source of a creek, constantly dividing to produce new tumor cells. Although the other tumor cells can divide and cause damage through their sheer bulk, they are shorter lived and can't maintain the tumor's growth. The cancer stem cells are also likely to be responsible when tumors spread to distant sites.

Identifying new cancer stem cells has been a major push within Stanford's Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, where Clarke serves as associate director. Irving Weissman, MD, director of the institute, said he hopes Stanford researchers will develop cancer therapies that specifically kill these cancer stem cells, eradicating the cancer entirely. Current therapies may kill the bulk of the tumor cells, but if any cancer stem cells remain the tumor will resurface or spread.

"We have brought together a t
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Contact: Amy Adams
amyadams@stanford.edu
650-723-3900
Stanford University Medical Center
4-Jun-2007


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