Jun 2015

Colon cancer: stem cells could lead to new target for treatment

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Canadian researchers have identified a new stem cell population in the colon linked to tumor growth. Their findings, published in Cell Stem Cell, could lead to new treatment approaches.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer and the second most common cause of death in Canada. On average, 423 Canadians are diagnosed with this type of cancer every week.

There are two kinds of stem cells in the intestine: a rapidly recycling one called Lgr5+ and a second slower one. Researchers at the Lawson Health Research Institute in London, Ontario have identified the second stem cell in the colon, one that is long-lived and radiation resistant. They also found that this new stem cell population not only gives rise to tumors in the colon, but also helps sustain and support the growth of the cancer.

According to Dr. Samuel Asfaha, a clinician-scientist at Lawson Institute and an assistant professor of medicine at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western University, the identification of the cellular origin of colorectal cancer is critical to understanding how cancer arises and identifying new targets for treatments.

“These findings are exciting as we have identified an important new target for cancer therapy. It is also proof that more than one stem cell can give rise to and sustain tumors, telling us that our cancer therapy needs to target more than one stem cell pool.” said Dr. Asfaha in a press release.

Until now, physicians believed that radiation therapy was effective. “With this new information, we now know this is not always true and we must find new forms of therapy to target the disease,” said Dr. Asfaha.

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