Feb 5th 2019

Cancer growth in the body could originate from a single cell – targeting it could revolutionise treatment

 

Cancer remains a frightening and largely incurable disease. The toxic side effects of chemotherapy and radiation make the cure often seem as bad as the ailment, and there is also the threat of recurrence and tumour spread.

Cancer treatment still follows a practically medieval method of cut, burn or poison. If the growth can’t be cut out through surgery, it may be burnt away with radiation or poisoned by chemotherapy. As a result, cancer therapy remains a daunting diagnosis for patients and treatment options seem limited for a disease which causes one in six deaths globally.

The failure to innovate in cancer treatment may lie in the very poor success rate of clinical trials. Approximately 95%-98% of new anti-cancer drugs actually fail phase III clinical trials, the phase in which new treatments are compared with existing therapy options. This is a staggering statistic. No other business could possibly survive with such an abysmal success rate.

Most drugs are made to target “bulk” cancer cells, but not the root cause: the cancer stem cell. Cancer stem cells, also known as “tumour-initiating cells”, are the only cells in the tumour that can make a new tumour. New therapies that specifically target and eradicate these cancer stem cells are needed to prevent tumours growing and spreading, but for that there needs to be more clarity around the target.

Our new research may have discovered such a target. We have identified and isolated cells within different cancerous growths which we call the “cell of origin”. Our experiments on cancer cells derived from a human breast tumour found that stem cells – representing 0.2% of the cancer cell population – have special characteristics.


Read more: Drug-resistant cancers kill millions – here's how we're tackling them


They generate vast amounts of energy and proliferate rapidly. We believe that they resemble the cancer cell of origin that has escaped senescence – the natural process of cell ageing and “death” which concludes a healthy cell life cycle. These are thought to be the first cancer cells which start the process of uncontrolled cell multiplication and cause tumours to form.

These cancer stem cells undergo anchorage-independent growth, also known as growth in suspension, without any tissue attachment. This is how metastasis occurs – spreading via the blood vessels and lymphatic vessels. These features put them front and centre as a new target for anti-cancer therapy.

With astonishing luck, these energetic cancer stem cells are colour-coded which means they have a natural phosphorescent glow, making them easy to identify and target.

Now that we have found them and we know how they behave, it should be relatively simple to find drugs to target cancer stem cells. In our new paper we have already shown that they are easily targeted with a mitochondrial inhibitor or a cell cycle inhibitor such as Ribociclib, an FDA-approved drug in the US which would prevent their proliferation.

Ultimately, this means that if we focus on energetic cancer stem cells, we may be able to directly hit the target. We might be able to turn cancer into a manageable chronic disease, like diabetes. We believe that we have arrived at the start of a new, more fruitful, road in cancer therapy. As a consequence, “big pharma” drug screening should actually focus on cancer stem cells and their relevant targets.

 

Michael P. Lisanti, Professor of Translational Medicine, University of Salford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Browse articles by author

More Essays

Apr 27th 2017

When we hear about the horrors of industrial livestock farming – the pollution, the waste, the miserable lives of billions of animals – it is hard not to feel

Apr 24th 2017



Left: Henry Taylor, “The Times Thay Aint a Changing Fast Enough!” (2016);
Apr 22nd 2017

April 22 is Earth Day, one of the world’s largest environmental movements against climate change. It’s a time when people around the world come together to defend the environment against the impact of humans.

Apr 14th 2017

In the run-up to Easter, it is customary for Egypt’s Coptic Christians to go to church every evening.

Apr 14th 2017

Google could lose as much as $750 million because of a boycott by advertisers, according to Nomura Research.

Apr 14th 2017

Image 20170329 8593 13p35fo Alamosa Photovoltaic Plan, south-central Colorado.
Apr 12th 2017

A record-breaking 8m students will graduate from Chinese universities in 2017.

Apr 7th 2017

The idea of a life lived modestly is gaining traction. Ten years ago, Samantha Weinberg, a mother of two young children, spent a year not shopping.

Apr 6th 2017

What if every citizen had a guaranteed income, regardless of whether they are at work? In an age of austerity and the rolling back of social policies, this idea may sound radical – but it is gaining momentum.

Apr 5th 2017

This February, more than 100 gravestones were vandalized at the Chesed Shel Emeth Society Cemetery outside of St.

Apr 3rd 2017

Martin Rees is Emeritus Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics, at the University of Cambridge, the Astronomer Royal, a member of Britain’s House of Lords, and a former President of the Royal Society.

Apr 1st 2017

The international media – particularly U.S. print and broadcast outlets -- are accustomed to high tension with the governments they cover in Washington. The press has always relished its adversarial, intrusive and disruptive role, and presidents have never liked it. In the 1930s H.L.

Mar 25th 2017

Touch underpins our social world and, evidence suggests, it may even help to reduce anxiety and provide pain relief. But can touch shape the actual organisation of our brains?

Mar 24th 2017

More than 350 million people worldwide suffer from type 2 diabetes. The condition is already rampant in several Western countries and numbers are now rising fast in emerging economies, such as India and China.

Mar 24th 2017

Children are manifesting increased rates of adult diseases like hypertension or high triglycerides.

Mar 22nd 2017

Academic psychologists have promulgated the myth that wisdom hinders creativity.

Mar 18th 2017

MADISON – A Dutch demagogue stirs up his followers in a campaign against immigrants.

Mar 18th 2017

Weight gain happens when we consume more food than we can burn, and weight loss happens when we burn more energy than we consume. But why do some people seem to eat whatever they want and not gain weight, and others appear to gain weight even if they eat reasonable amounts of food?