Stem cells are all over the news lately. But one version that hasn’t gotten as much exposure recently are cancer stem cells – those cells that are thought to maintain and replenish some cancers. Although the cells have been shown to be important in animal studies, it’s been difficult to prove their role in human cancers.
Now Stanford researchers Ash Alizadeh, MD; Andrew Gentles, PhD; Ravindra Majeti, MD, PhD; and Sylvia Plevritis, PhD, have teamed up to show that patients with acute myeloid leukemia whose cancers express higher levels of cancer stem cell markers do much more poorly than their peers with lower levels:
“The stronger the leukemia stem cell signal, the worse the patients did,” said Gentles, who is a member of the Stanford Center for Cancer Systems Biology. “Their lives were shorter, they relapsed sooner and they were less able to respond to therapy.” The center was established with a $12 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to stimulate the application of computer modeling to cancer research. Plevritis is the director of the center and a co-author of the research.
The research is published in today’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. The authors hope that they can modify their analytical technique for use in the clinic soon. By doing so, they may be able to target treatments more specifically and predict which patients are likely to respond poorly or relapse.
“This finding adds to our clinical confidence that the cancer stem cell hypothesis is important to human disease,” said Majeti. “It may also define features of the disease that will help us to determine whether individual patients should participate in clinical trials or if their initial treatment should be more aggressive than the standard approach.”
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