Researchers trace bowel cancer to stem cells

In collaboration with the Press Association

Researchers have found evidence that bowel cancer may be fuelled by the presence of stem cells within the tumours. The research could one day open up new paths to treatment.

Stem cells are the basic building blocks of life, providing a standard template which can then develop into hundreds of different types of cell that make up our bodies.

Two teams in Canada and Italy have now linked the growth of tumours to bowel cancer stem-cells, following similar findings for leukaemia and breast and brain cancers.

Both teams were able to isolate cells bearing the stem-cell marker protein CD133 from bowel cancer samples. These CD133 cells could be transplanted into mice and initiate new cancers.

Cancer cells taken from the initial cancers that did not bear the CD133 marker were unable to start new cancers.

"Over recent years we have seen growing evidence that some tumours may contain cancer stem cells that allow them to keep growing and spreading," said Dr Kat Arney of Cancer Research UK.

"This is leading to a change of perspective in the way we view the development and treatment of cancer, as effective cancer therapies must kill the stem cells as well as the bulk of the tumour to prevent the cancer from coming back.

"This discovery suggests that stem cells may also be at the root of bowel cancer ? one of the biggest cancer killers in the UK

"The challenge now is to understand what controls cancer stem cells, and to develop treatments that can effectively destroy them."

The studies were conducted by the University Health Network in Toronto and the Istituto Superiore di Sanita in Rome, and are published in the journal Nature.