Without populations of adults stem cells in our tissues we’d be screwed. There would be no way to heal after injury or disease. But they come at a price, stem cells can mutate, lose their off switch or go astray, replicating fast and integrating into the circulatory system, they can form a cluster of cells that are business for themselves, one that can fool the body’s immune system. After all, the cells making it up are natives. Usually the owner won’t know what’s going on until they feel a lump or get a scan, then the battle is on. A new three-pronged study sheds light on the fascinating and deadly phenamenon:
LA Times— There are still many unknowns, said MIT cancer researcher Robert Weinberg, who wasn’t involved in the studies. Among them: Do these cells come from a tissue’s normal stem cells or somewhere else? What makes them turn rogue? Do most — or even all — cancers work this way?
Even so, the implications are obvious, he and others said: Doctors can’t just go after the rapidly dividing cells if they want to effectively fight a cancer. “Unless we treat the cell of origin, we won’t cure the patient,” said Dr. Jenny Chang, director of the Cancer Center at Methodist Hospital in Houston.
Today, cancer medications generally kill only rapidly dividing cells, and scientists don’t yet know enough about cancer stem cells to target them. Biotech companies and academics are working on the problem.
I’ve heard about other promising fields of biotech research. For example there’s a part of the human immune system that chemically paints material for other cells to hone in on like little laser guided bombs. But learning how to activate or deactivate specific sequences in stem cells of all kinds means honest to goodness regenerative medicine.
Stem cell research could produce treatments for a lot more than cancer. But if anyone reading this has ever witnessed or experienced the roller-coaster of hell that is a cancer patient’s life, turning that curse into a manageable or curable disease would be plenty good enough.