A research conducted at University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center has discovered a marker that can identify stem cells in breast tumours.
The marker, the researchers suggest, may have hold the key to a potential simple test that could help determine the best treatment for breast cancer.
They found that cells from normal and cancerous breast tissue that had high levels of the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase activity, or ALDH, acted like breast stem cells and those suffering from the cancer had a specific form ALDH1 that had the devastating outcomes.
The lead study author, Gabriela Dontu described it as a big step.
"This study is a big step because it provides a marker that's easy to use in both normal and cancer cells. Clinical applications were really not possible with the previously described markers," said Dontu.
He also said that ALDH1 identified in stem/progenitor cells from both normal and cancer tissue lends support to the idea that those cells are the primary target of transformation to malignancy.
"We believe it is only a very small population of cells that really are capable of unlimited growth and therefore drive cancer recurrence and metastasis," he added.
Although, the study focussed specifically on in breast cancer, the researchers believe it could have implications for other cancer types also.
Max S. Wicha, M.D., Distinguished Professor of Oncology and Director of the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center said that he hopes some of the treatments developed for one type of tumor like breast cancer may also work in targeting the cancer stem cells in these other types of tumors.
"The lessons we've learned from breast cancer stem cells have been very valuable to us as we attack the cancer stem cells in other organs. Our hope is that some of the treatments we develop for one type of tumor like breast cancer may also work in targeting the cancer stem cells in these other types of tumors, and so we actually may make great progress in treating a wide variety of cancers," said Prof. Wicha
U-M researchers are actively involved in stem cell research in virtually all cancer types.
U-M researchers have been the first to identify stem cells in pancreatic and head and neck cancers.
However, work is ongoing to develop and test treatments that target these cells.
This research is still in the laboratory stage and no clinical tests or treatments are currently available.
The study has been published in the November issue of Cell Stem Cell.