Cancer Stem Cells Have a Mind and Character of Their Own

New research on cancer stem cells have brought to light some stunning evidences with regard to birth and generation of cancer cells. Contrary to the initial perception that cancer cells evolve from the cancer stem cells, it has become known that cancer cells can convert from one form of cancer cells to another and do not have to be born from the respective stem cells. The research was carried out by scientists from Broad Institute of MIT, Harvard and Whitehead Institute. This revelation brings about a massive change in the way cancer cells were perceived. The result of the present study also reveals that killing the cancer cells might not be sufficient to completely eliminate the risk of cancer.

The current research is based on a combination of laboratory experiments and mathematical modeling. The research is aimed at proving the reason behind cancer cells maintaining their cellular balance. The research team consists of Eric Lander, who is the director of Broad and Piyush Gupta, who is the first author of the study and an assistant professor in biology in MIT as well as being a member of Whitehead Institute. Piyush Gupta carried out this research in the position of a postdoctoral research scholar at Lander’s lab. The authors of the study have said that the results of the study can bring a change in the way cancer is being presently treated.

Cancer stem cells are the cells from which all other cancer cells generate. It has always been perceived that by destroying the stem cells, the generation of cancer cells can be stopped. But in the light of the current study, this perception has been proved wrong since cancer cells can convert from one form to another and self-renewal may not be the only way in which these cells are generated.  Specifically, cancer cells are not stable. They exist in different states called “phenotypic”. These are kind of unstable and can convert from one form to another. The research has suggested that non stem cells have a very strong possibility to don stem cell like characters. As Lander puts it “cancer cells change jobs”.

While the experiments on cancer cells in the lab have given some serious food for thought, further research is necessary to ascertain whether the same mechanism occurs in tumor cells in human body. Researchers are now focused on finding out the exact way in which cancer stem cells change their forms and states. The results are expected to bring a big difference in the way cancer treatments are provided since killing stem cells does not seem to entirely eliminate cancer.