Cancer stem cell subpopulation drives pancreatic cancer metastasis

In collaboration with the Press Association

A distinct group of cancer stem cells (CSCs) has been identified, which appears to play an important role in the spread, or 'metastasis', of pancreatic cancer.

The discovery by researchers at the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich has shed light on the role of these cells in the onset, progression and spread of cancer.

CSCs are thought to have similar properties to normal stem cells, as they can self-replicate and are able to give rise to different types of cells.

Researchers found that human pancreatic cancer tissue contains cells that are able to cause tumours and are resistant to chemotherapy.

They discovered a subset of cells that express a surface protein called CD133 - thought to be a 'marker' of stem cells - and a protein receptor, CXCR4, which is involved in blood cell migration.

By implanting these cells in mice, they were able to induce metastatic tumours, indicating that the cells were indeed cancer stem cells.

Clinical studies also revealed that tumour samples with a high number of cells with the CXCR4 receptor tended to come from patients with more advanced disease that had spread.

The researchers suggested that the finding could pave the way for more effective therapies.

Dr Christopher Heeschen, a researcher in the university's Department of Surgery, said that studying the stem cells in more detail could lead to the development of ways to combat them and treat pancreatic cancer.

"This may eventually provide a more effective treatment for our patients suffering from this deadly disease," he commented.

The study is published in the journal Cell Stem Cell.