Key to Treating Cancer May Be Finding its Original Cell

Aug 11, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- Cancer biologists are turning their attention to the normal cells that give rise to cancers, to learn more about how tumor growth might be stopped at the earliest opportunity.

"Identifying the specific, normal cells that cancers come from can provide critical insight into how cancers develop," said Robert Wechsler-Reya, an associate professor of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology at Duke University Medical Center. "This may help us develop more rational and effective approaches to treatment."

Every cancer comes from a normal cell. The hard part is finding the cell at the root of each particular subtype of cancer. For the first time, the Duke team has identified two types of cells in the brain that can give rise to the malignant brain tumor medulloblastoma. This dangerous cancer, which occurs most commonly in children, is currently treated with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, which have extremely severe side effects, said Wechsler-Reya, who is a member of the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke.

To find the normal cells at the root of medulloblastoma, Wechsler-Reya's laboratory, in collaboration with Brandon Wainwright's laboratory at the University of Queensland in Australia, created mouse models of medulloblastoma by turning off the patched gene, a key regulator of cell growth in the developing brain cerebellum. In particular, they tested the effects of shutting off patched in granule neuron precursors (GNPs), which can only make one particular type of nerve cell (neuron), or in stem cells, which can make all the different cell types in the cerebellum.

When they deleted patched in the neuron precursors, 100 percent of the mice developed medulloblastoma. Deleting patched from stem cells initially led to the formation of many more stem cells. However, most of these stem cells went on to form normal cell types within the cerebellum. Only the patched-less stem cells that gave rise to GNPs went on to form medulloblastoma tumors.

According to Wechsler-Reya, these studies provide the first definitive proof that medulloblastoma can be triggered in a granule neuron precursor or a stem cell. But even more importantly, they suggest that when it comes to cancer formation, the cell type in which a mutation happens is as important as the mutation itself. Although stem cells that lack patched also gave rise to other forms of brain cells, those cells did not form the tumors.

"Simply mutating a gene is not enough to cause cancer," Wechsler-Reya said. "The mutation has to happen in the right cell type at the right time. In the case of patched, GNPs provide the critical context for tumor formation."

Wechsler-Reya said that cancer biologists need to learn more about the genes that regulate proliferation (cell division), differentiation, survival, and programmed cell death in normal cells. A mutation in a proliferation gene, for example, can send the cell on a path of exaggerated division of cells -- becoming a fast-growing tumor. Understanding the way these genes are controlled during normal development can shed light on how they go awry in human cancers.

This work, published in the August issue of Cancer Cell, was funded by the Hope Street Kids Foundation, the Kislak-Sussman Fund, the Children's Brain Tumor Foundation, the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation, the McDonnell Foundation, and a grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The collaborative work in Dr. Wainwright's lab was supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, the ARC Special Research Centre for Functional and Applied Genomics, the Queensland Cancer Fund.

Provided by Duke University

Explore further: Tumor surroundings are shown to affect progression of different cancer subtypes

Related Stories

Finger gestures will tell your smartwatch what to do

59 minutes ago

Gesture control for smartwatches is the key mission for a startup called Deus Ex Technology. They have devised a module which can fit into a smartwatch band and behave as a gesture controller for your timepiece. ...

NSA winds down once-secret phone-records collection program

22 hours ago

The National Security Agency has begun winding down its collection and storage of American phone records after the Senate failed to agree on a path forward to change or extend the once-secret program ahead of its expiration ...

Recommended for you

Challenges ahead for European clinical trials

2 hours ago

The European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO), in collaboration with the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC), expressed their views on the EU Clinical Trials Regulation in an official position ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

E_L_Earnhardt
not rated yet Aug 12, 2008
Accelerated mitosis is the "hall-mark" for any and ALL cancers. This is electronically triggered
as is "normal rate mitosis". The rate of cell division is governed by electron "speed & spin", which is read as "heat" or electrical charge. COOL or "discharge" the cell to change rate!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.