Cancer and Stem Cells

by Roger

One of the main issues which physicians face when treating cancer is the sheer variety of types of cancer that exist. Research has shown that cancer cells are very different, and can affect different patients in varying ways. There can also be a range of types of cells within a malignant tumour. Stem cell research has been mooted as one way of helping oncologists cope with this challenging variety of cells in a more effective way.

Stem Cell Theory

Stem cell research has shown that among cancer cells, a few can act as stem cells which help the cancer to renew itself and grow. This is similar to the way in which normal bodily organs and tissues have stem cells which help them renew themselves and grow. Without these stem cells, it would be very hard for cancers to sustain their attacks on the body.

The idea that stem cells help to drive tumour growth has enormous implications for treatment. Most treatments for cancer currently rely on their ability to shrink the tumours. This, however, can rarely completely destroy a cancer’s ability to return, often with a greater resistance to treatment.

Cell Caricatures

Researchers as Biolamina strongly suspect that cancer stem cells share many of the same characteristics and behaviours of normal cells. They are, in fact, a type of caricature of normal cells, in that they are a distorted version of normal cells. This means that scientists can use what they know about the behaviour of normal stem cells to produce treatments which more effectively attack cancerous cells. Anti-CD47 therapy is a recent success story in this area of medical research.

Stem cell transplants can also be used to treat cancer. This type of procedure is particularly useful after treatments such as chemotheraphy or radiotherapy, which destroy normal stem cells in the body. Post-treatment, stem cells can be given intravenously to a patient. They will then move into the bone marrow, and begin to grow and help the body to make healthy blood cells again. This process is referred to as ‘engraftment‘.

Stem cells offer a new and potentially very efficacious way of treating cancer, a disease which continues to take life and baffle doctors. By taking cells from bone marrow, or other areas of willing transplant patient’s body, treatments such as chemo and radiotherapy can be rendered more effective, whilst many of the more unpleasant and long-term side effects of such treatment can be significantly mitigated.