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Mesothelioma Patients May Benefit from Discovery of Stem Cell Function in Tumor Regrowth

Although the ethics around the use of stem cells in the medical field has been hotly debated for years, many researchers agree that stem cells offer promising solutions in understanding and treating a variety of diseases and disorders.  Researchers into rare diseases, including mesothelioma, have been keeping an eye on stem cell developments in hopes that the research could lead to a breakthrough in understanding better how cancer progresses.  Now, in a study released this week, researchers report that the benefits of stem cells are actually a detriment to cancer patients by helping tumors regrow.

Chemotherapy is typically the primary mode of treatment for many cancers including pleural mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos that affects the lining of the lungs. However, some cancers don’t respond to chemotherapy, leaving many patients with few alternatives to successfully combat the disease.

Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (UT Southwestern) believe they now know why cancers are chemoresistant: cancer stem cells are spurring regrowth in the tumors.   The researchers report that while stem cells build new, healthy cells, they also fuel growth in cancer cells.

According to the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR), stem cells have the capacity to self-renew and are touted as useful in treating degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s.  But knowing that stem cells can continue to grow in the face of chemotherapy, drug companies can develop pharmaceuticals that target cancer stem cells.

The UT Southwestern researchers focused on a deadly brain tumor which, like mesothelioma, is incurable.  They found that despite the cancer responding to the initial therapy, by shrinking, it would recur.  This was determined to be caused by a subset of slow-growing tumor cells that remain at rest, like stem cells, then repair and replenish.

Earlier this year, researchers in Singapore published a similar finding.  They also developed a tool to support testing drugs to effectively fight the cancer stem cells.

The study was published online today in NatureIn addition, another study supporting these findings was published in Science.

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Nancy Meredith is a blog and web content writer with more than 20 years of professional experience in the Information Technology industry. She has been writing about Mesothelioma for 4 years. Follow Nancy on Google+

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