Research highlight

A system to study cells with cancer stem cell properties

Nature Cell Biology

August 22, 2011

Terminally differentiated non-cancerous human cells can be reprogrammed in culture to exhibit characteristics usually associated with ‘cancer stem cells’, and promote tumour growth when injected into mice. This experimental method, published online in Nature Cell Biology, could in future be used to study certain tumours.

Experimental evidence indicates that in some tumours cancerous growth is driven by a fraction of cells with specific proliferation characteristics, termed cancer stem cells. The expression of proteins implicated in cancer growth has been shown to induce initially non-tumorigenic differentiated human cells to form tumours in mice. Paola Scaffidi and Tom Misteli find that expression of such proteins induces a small subset of cells to adopt a primitive state with self-renewal properties. These cells also have the ability to generate tumours containing more differentiated cell types when injected into mice. This particular subset of cells therefore shares properties with the cancer stem cells that have been proposed to drive tumorigenesis in some specific cancers. The authors suggest that this in vitro experimental system could be exploited to study such tumours.

doi: 10.1038/ncb2308

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