Stem cells that are considered as a source of biological rejuvenation might be responsible for the growth and spread of tumour. Scientists have located stem cells amongst vigorously dividing cells of a tumour.
Currently, researchers from the Weill Cornell Medical College are studying these cells with hopes of combating malignant cancers in the brain.
"Some patients' brain tumours respond to chemotherapy and some don't. We believe cancer stem cells may be the cause," said Dr. John A. Boockvar, the Alvina and Willis Murphy Assistant Professor of Neurological Surgery and head of the Brain Tumour Research Group at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.
Researchers are capturing and classifying these cancer stem cells in order to find out how they react to certain available drug therapies, for they believe that doing so will lead to more accurate and specific cancer diagnosis, allowing for tailored drug treatments.
"Cataloging brain tumour stem cells will be an enormous tool for patient diagnosis but it will also help to create a library of knowledge for the scientific community to understand how brain tumours form and to test and develop new drugs," Dr. Boockvar said.
He is studying the use of two drugs already available for the disease's treatment to stave off cancer stem cell growth in the brain. One is Tarceva -- approved for the treatment of lung and pancreatic cancer - that works by stopping the growth and spread of cancer cells.
The other drug is Avastin -- approved for the treatment of colorectal cancers - which is also being studied for inhibiting cancer cell growth and works by stopping the growth of blood vessels (angiogenesis) that feed the tumour.
Preliminary results from these tests showed that some patients' cancers are wiped out, whereas others remain resistant.
Dr. Boockvar believes that these patients' drug resistance might be due to a class of stem cells resilient to available treatments. Finding biomarkers that distinguish these stem cells from those that are destroyed by known drugs might help researchers formulate new drugs.
"Determining a patient's cancer stem cell profile will take a lot of the guessing out of choosing a course of treatment. It will save money, medical resources and precious time for the patient," Dr. Boockvar said.
The findings will appear in the January 2008 edition of the journal Neurosurgery.