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U-M researchers identify stem cells in pancreatic cancer

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers have discovered the small number of cells in pancreatic cancer that are capable of fueling the tumors growth. The finding is the first identification of cancer stem cells in pancreatic tumors.

Cancer stem cells are the small number of cancer cells that replicate to drive tumor growth. Researchers believe current cancer treatments sometimes fail because they are not attacking the cancer stem cells. By identifying the stem cells, researchers can then develop drugs to target and kill these cells.

This is particularly crucial for pancreatic cancer, which has the worst survival rate of any major cancer type. Nearly everyone who develops pancreatic cancer dies from the disease.

"Over the last one to two decades we have not had a significant improvement in the long-term survival rates with pancreatic cancer. I believe that if we can target cancer stem cells within pancreatic cancer we may have an avenue to really make a breakthrough in therapy for this awful disease," says lead study author Diane Simeone, M.D., director of the Gastrointestinal Oncology Program at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Researchers looked at cell markers on the surface of tumor cells and identified a small number of cells that quickly produced new tumors. The researchers suggest these cells are the pancreatic cancer stem cells. Results of the study appear in the Feb. 1 issue of Cancer Research.

Tissue samples were taken from 10 patients with pancreatic cancer. The samples were divided and implanted into mice to grow new tumors, allowing a larger sample to be studied. The researchers sorted the tumor cells based on whether they expressed certain antibody markers on the cell surface, specifically CD44, CD24 and epithelial-specific antigen, or ESA. These three markers were chosen as a starting point based on previous work in breast cancer stem cells. The researc
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Contact: Nicole Fawcett
nfawcett@umich.edu
734-764-2220
University of Michigan Health System
1-Feb-2007


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