Researchers working on a way to cure cancer say they have finally found a marker that can distinguish cancer stem cells.
Using the marker in a mouse with colon cancer, the team at Kyoto University was able to target the cancer stem cells for extermination. That led to almost all cancer cells disappearing from the rodent. Researchers hope the discovery can lead to the development of a treatment drug that can target only cancer cells with few side effects.
The findings of the research study were to be posted on the Internet version of Nature Genetics on Dec. 3.
Stem cells in nerve and blood cells can create new cells even as the stem cells themselves multiply.
Cancer stem cells play a similar role and have strong resistance to drugs and radiation. Even if anti-cancer drugs are used, the cancer stem cells survive–and this leads to a recurrence of cancer through the multiplication of ordinary cancer cells.
Researchers hope to find a way to eliminate cancer by targeting cancer stems cells in a concentrated attack. However, until now, markers found in cancer stem cells were also found in normal stem cells. Thus, targeting cancer stem cells with drugs also affected normal stem cells, leading to serious side effects.
Tsutomu Chiba, a professor of gastroenterology at Kyoto University, and his associates focused on the DCLK1 protein that is involved in the growth of nerve cells. Using colon cancer in a mouse, the researchers found that cancer cells with the protein were cancer stem cells. Moreover, the protein was not found in normal stem cells.
The marker is believed to be the first that can differentiate cancer stem cells from normal stem cells.
Cells with the DCLK1 protein in the mouse that were genetically altered to develop colon cancer were targeted for destruction. After five days, almost all cancer cells, including the cancer stem cells, had disappeared.