Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Researchers discover the source of epithelial ovarian cancer

In a study that just came out researchers from the Cornell University, led by Andrea Flesken-Nikitin, have identified a new stem cell niche that may be the source of epithelial ovarian cancer (EOC). Hopefully, the study will give scientists a deeper understanding of the disease, helping them to develop better means to combat it.

Finding the originating source of epithelial ovarian cancer has been quite troublesome for the researchers in the past. This is mainly due to the fact that the vast majority of the diagnosed cases are already in the latest stages of the disease. Since the originating source remains unknown, creating an early diagnostic test is tricky, thus creating an unending circle.

In this animal study, conducted on mice, the scientists discovered, for the first time, a stem cell niche ( a microenvironment where stem cells live) that lies in a transitional area known as the hilum region, a layer of cells that links the ovary to the rest of the body. According to the study, the stem cells in this area are very susceptible towards becoming cancerous, ultimately leading to EOC.

Imagee showing the female reproductiove system
Image showing the Blood supply of the female reproductivesystem . The left ovary is visible above the "ovarian arteries".

According to Alexander Nikitin, senior author of the study, the new findings allow scientists to look for the same stem cells in humans. The researchers believe that the study can be useful in the research of other types of cancer as well, acting as a manual for researchers to search for other carcinogenic stem cell niches other organs may have.

Epithelial ovarian cancer (also known as ovarian carcinoma) is a disease in which cancer cells form in the tissue covering the ovary. Women with a family history of ovarian cancer are at an increased risk of the disease. EOC is the fifth leading cause of cancer death among women in the U.S.

As mentioned before, the condition tends to be asymptomatic during the early stages, and when symptoms appears the disease has usually progressed to an advanced stage. Some symptoms of the disease may be the following:
  • Pain or swelling in the abdomen area
  • Pelvis pain 
  • Gastrointestinal problems (e.g. gas, bloating, or constipation)

Please note that  these symptoms are very common in other diseases

Video about ovarian cancer

Flesken-Nikitin, A., Hwang, C., Cheng, C., Michurina, T., Enikolopov, G., & Nikitin, A. (2013). Ovarian surface epithelium at the junction area contains a cancer-prone stem cell niche Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature11979

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