Stem cells frequently play a crucial role in the spread of tumours, scientists have found. They also revealed that if they can develop drugs to deactivate them, it would stop the cells from dividing to create new tumours.
Cancer Research UK (CRUK), Britain's biggest cancer charity, has set up a consortium of research groups, which are hoping to highlight new drugs within two years.
"Stem cells are responsible for renewing tissue in the body. But sometimes they are subverted by cancerous processes. You can give a cancer patient radiotherapy or cut out their tumour surgically - but you can still leave a few affected stem cells behind," the Observer quoted Dr Clive Stanway, chief officer of Cancer Research Technology, as saying.
"The person appears cured. Then the stem cells start dividing again and the tumour reappears."
The new campaign will be concerned only with adult stem cells.
Professor Fiona Watt, deputy director of the CRUK's Cambridge Research Institute, said, "Essentially, these drugs would tell these cells to stop growing and multiplying."
Drugs are being tested by CRUK researchers to find those that are best able to switch off cell division and the spread of cancer.