What are cancer stem cells?
We often hear about stem cells in the media, from their potential to treat human disease to the ethical issues surrounding the production and use of embryonic stem cells. But researchers also think that stem cells are very important in cancer.
Cancer Research UK is funding a number of researchers who are investigating cancer stem cells and targeting them to beat the disease.
Here is a short animation explaining more about cancer stem cells:
'Rogue' stem cells and cancer
A stem cell is a kind of ‘starter cell’ that has the potential to develop into many different cell types in the body. When a stem cell multiplies, the resulting cells either remain as stem cells or, under the right conditions, can develop more specialised functions - such as forming a muscle cell, red blood cell or brain cell.
Scientists now believe that stem cells may play a direct role in the development of cancer, as some tumours are thought to develop from ‘rogue’ faulty stem cells. This has led to the idea of 'cancer stem cells', which have now been identified in a range of cancer types, including bowel, breast and prostate cancer as well as leukaemia.
There are two types of stem cells – embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells.
Embryonic stem cells are found at the very earliest stages of life, and can make all the different types of cell in the body, while adult stem cells are much more restricted. For example, skin stem cells can only make the types of cells found in the skin, while haematopoietic stem cells only make blood cells.
Our scientists are primarily focusing on adult stem cells, and how these become faulty in cancer. Cancer Research UK does not fund any research using human embryos or foetal tissue.
Question about cancer? Contact our information nurse team