Stem cell technology unearths cancer clue: charity

Scientists from Cancer Research UK say they are closer to understanding how cancer cells spread around the body, following the publication of a new study using "cutting edge" stem cell technology.

Researchers have discovered key similarities in the way cancer cells spread out from a tumour and the movement of stem cells as they form new tissues – a process crucial to an embryo's development.

Their study, published in November's Journal of Cell Science, has found that a molecule called 5T4 plays an important role in the ability of stem cells to move around. Researchers know that 5T4 is present in many different types of tumour and hope treatments targeted against it could help to combat cancer's spread.

As cancer develops, cells often journey out from a tumour and spread round the body via the bloodstream or lymphatic system. This ability to move around is shared by stem cells early in an embryo's development, as they move into position, divide and specialise into different cell types and tissues.

While embryonic cells begin life with the potential to become any type of tissue in the body, as the embryo develops, distinct stem cells arise with the ability to produce particular tissues. All kinds of stem cell need to be mobile – an attribute they lose as they turn into specialised cell types.

Cancer Research UK's Professor Peter Stern, lead researcher on the study, said: "Research on human embryonic stem cells remains highly controversial, but our study of their mouse equivalents suggests they could prove extremely useful as a model system for better understanding how cancer cells grow and spread."


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