Thursday, 13 December 2012

Scientists isolate cancer stem cells from kidney tumours

Scientists just announced that they have managed, for the first time, to isolate cancer stem cells that cause Wilm's tumour, a type of kidney cancer that typically occurs in children and in rare occasions adults. They also found out, that a certain antibody may be effective against the condition.

Patients with Wilm's tumour tend to respond quite well to surgery and chemotherapy. However, it is not uncommon for children treated with chemotherapy to develop secondary cancers during adulthood. This is due to the fact that conventional chemotherapy is toxic to all cells. To counter this, many scientists are currently developing experimental drugs that only target cancerous cells.

In the past, adult cancer stem cells have been isolated  from various organs including the brain, breast and pancreas. But never in the past had stem cells from a paediatric cancer been isolated. Professor Benjamin Dekel , one of the key researchers,  explained the importance of isolating and studying cancer stem cells:

 “Cancer stem cells contain the complete genetic machinery necessary to start, sustain and propagate tumour growth and they are often referred to as cancer-initiating cells. As such, they not only represent a useful system to study cancer development but they also serve as a way to study new drug targets and potential treatments designed to stop the growth and spread of different types of cancer.", and added "We have demonstrated for the first time the presence of cancer stem cells in a type of tumour that is often found in the kidneys of young children.”

In order to isolate the cancerous stem cells, the researchers first extracted tumour parts from human patients and then grafted them into mice. This lead to the growth of human tumours in the mice. By using several biomarkers, they managed to pinpoint and extract all cancer cells and by studying them further, they found out that only the cancer stem cells had the capacity to create new tumours. The rest of the cancerous cells simply couldn't promote new tumour development.

“We identified several biomarkers, including molecules that are on the cell surface, cell signaling molecules and microRNAs, that make it possible to distinguish between cancer stem cells or cancer-initiating cells and the rest of the cells in the tumour that are less likely to lead to cancer." said Dekel.

 During their research, they also found out that a certain antibody drug can be very effective for treating the condition, at least in their mouse model.

"In further experiments, we were able to show that an antibody drug that targets one such biomarker, the neural cell adhesion molecule, was able to either almost completely or in some cases completely eradicate the tumours that we induced in mice,” said Dekel.

The process can be repeated again and again, thus giving researchers a new option for testing new experimental drugs.

“This preliminary result suggests that the cancer stem cells that we have identified, isolated and propagated may serve as a useful tool to look for new drug targets as well as new drugs for the treatment of Wilms’ tumours.” Dekel concluded.

Wilms' tumour or nephroblastoma is a type of cancer, found in the kidneys. It usually occurs in children and rarely in adults. About 500 cases are diagnosed in the U.S  each and every year.

Video about Wilm's tumor by Professor Frank Friedman 

- Professor Benjamin Dekel is head of the Pediatric Stem Cell Research Institute and a senior physician at the Sheba Medical Center and the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University, Israel.

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