While much of the popular media attention over the last 10 years has focused on embryonic stem cells, in fact, the adult stem cell has been shown to be a viable and valuable source in the long fight to better understand cancer's origins and treatment possibilities. Adult stem cells, in brief, are also known as progenitor cells or somatic stem cells. They are found in minute quantities in nearly every human body organ and tissue. Their key function is maintenance and repair of their specific tissues.
There are several important reasons why cancer researchers are increasingly turning to adult stem cells:
1. Adult stem cells carry no ethical concerns.
We've all followed the loud controversy over the use of embryonic stem cell lines for research, and the ethical questions that surround their harvesting from a days-old human embryo. Adult stem cells avoid this ethical dilemma entirely. They can be isolated from a variety of tissue sources, including adult bone marrow, bone marrow mononuclear cells (BMMCs), peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs), umbilical cord blood, fresh tissue, and tumor-derived tissue cells.
2. Adult stem cells are unspecialized.
The adult stem cell is an unspecialized cell that is capable of long-term renewal, via cell division over long time periods. These stem cells can also give rise to different cell types, making their utility high for researchers studying the many types of human cancers.
3. Adult stem cells can regenerate malignant cells.
Important cancer research often focuses on the stem cells that can be isolated from a malignant cancerous tumor. Cancer researchers are pursuing the idea that the reason for the failure of current cancer treatments may be due to the fact that such treatments don't destroy the cancer stem cells. While cancer stem cells total just one to three percent of all tumor cells, these cells are the only ones that can cause regeneration of malignant cells, thus inducing cancer cells to grow.
Researchers at the University of Michigan are actively pursuing this theory for developing better treatments for breast cancer. One key finding utilizing adult stem cells, say UM scientists, is the fact that, "mutations in genes called HER2 and PTEN triggered rapid cell division and self-renewal in breast cancer stem cells. This caused the stem cells to develop abnormally and invade surrounding breast tissue. When the scientists treated the cells with drugs known to inhibit activity of these genes, the number of cancer stem cells dropped dramatically."
4. Lower rejection rates.
Researchers have long observed that adult stem cells used in noted that adult stem cells don’t present with the same level of immunological rejection challenges as do embryonic stem cells because they are harvested from the same patient, leading to a lower rejection rate. For example, adult stem cells have been used for many years to treat certain cancers via a bone marrow transplant.
5. Comparing adult and pediatric cancers.
Wilms' Tumor is a common pediatric renal cancer. Cancer researchers in this study set out to compare and contrast the differences in tumor biology that are known to exist between adult and pediatric cancers. They found that there are cancer stem cells in pediatric WTs and believe that these could help in developing targeted cancer therapies for pediatric solid tumors.
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