Spindles give cancer clues

February 12, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Cancer scientists working at the University of Dundee have discovered a form of stem cell activity that may help lead to early identification of the disease.

Early diagnosis and treatment of many cancers can be key in limiting the effects of the disease. This new research, published in the scientific journal Cell Stem Cell, reveals differences in the way behave in normal tissue compared with their activity in tissue that is pre-cancerous.

The research team led by Professor Inke Näthke, and funded by Cancer Research UK, examined the behaviour of mitotic spindles - structures that separate genetic material during the key process of cell division.

Using state-of-the-art imaging techniques, they were able to generate three-dimensional pictures of mitotic spindles in intestinal tissue. They found that they behaved differently in tissue with a single mutation associated with bowel (colorectal) cancer than they did in normal, healthy tissue.

Stem cells are crucial for the normal maintenance of many tissues. They are also involved in the re-generation of damaged tissues. Their role in cancer, and also their enormous potential in treating diseases, makes understanding their biology crucial.

'The process we were investigating is called asymmetric cell division,' said Professor Näthke, a Principal Investigator in the Dundee Cancer Centre. 'The importance of asymmetric divisions for stem cell function and maintenance is well established in the developing nervous system and the skin. However, its role in gut tissue and its role in helping to produce tumours are still debated.'

'We developed an imaging technique that permits the visualisation of three-dimensional aspects of tissue architecture to identify differences in stem and non-stem cells in the intestinal tract. Using this technique, we found that this process of asymmetric division in stem cells is lost in tissue that gives rise to cancers in the gut, so these spindles behave differently in pre-cancerous tissue.'

'In the healthy tissue this process works well. In the precancerous tissue it seems to be compromised, which is an important sign, as this tissue otherwise appears normal.'

'This is important as it may have implications in developing techniques for identifying pre-cancerous at an early stage, when it still appears normal, giving clinicians a chance to catch the disease in the early stages of development. It might also have implications for the types of treatment that should be considered.'

The work combined excellence across the College of Life Sciences and the School of Medicine at Dundee, together with other collaborators including researchers at the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research in Glasgow, and the Netherlands.

'This is a perfect example of the kind of cross-disciplinary work we expect to be doing under the auspices of the new Dundee Cancer Centre launched last week with Research UK,' said Professor Näthke.

'We have combined expertise in imaging, pathology, surgery and cellular science to make these findings.'

Explore further: Study: Neural stem cells are long-lived

Related Stories

Cancer is a stem cell issue

February 19, 2007

There is an urgent reason to study stem cells: stem cells are at the heart of some, if not all, cancers. Mounting evidence implicates a clutch of rogue stem cells brandishing ‘epigenetic’ marks as the main culprits in ...

New technique creates cancer stem cells

April 9, 2008

With a bit of genetic trickery, researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have turned normal skin cells into cancer stem cells, a step that will make these naturally rare cells easier to study.

The making of an intestinal stem cell

March 5, 2009

Researchers have found the factor that makes the difference between a stem cell in the intestine and any other cell. The discovery reported in the March 6th issue of the journal Cell, a Cell Press publication, is an essential ...

Recommended for you

Secrets of a heat-loving microbe unlocked

September 4, 2015

Scientists studying how a heat-loving microbe transfers its DNA from one generation to the next say it could further our understanding of an extraordinary superbug.

Plants also suffer from stress

September 4, 2015

High salt in soil dramatically stresses plant biology and reduces the growth and yield of crops. Now researchers have found specific proteins that allow plants to grow better under salt stress, and may help breed future generations ...

Ancient walnut forests linked to languages, trade routes

September 4, 2015

If Persian walnut trees could talk, they might tell of the numerous traders who moved along the Silk Roads' thousands of miles over thousands of years, carrying among their valuable merchandise the seeds that would turn into ...

Huddling rats behave as a 'super-organism'

September 3, 2015

Rodents huddle together when it is cold, they separate when it is warm, and at moderate temperatures they cycle between the warm center and the cold edges of the group. In a new study published in PLOS Computational Biology, ...

0 comments

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.