Led by Shrikant Anant, Ph.D., and Courtney Houchen, M.D., the scientists discovered that while there were many proteins that appeared in both regular cancer cells and stem cells, there was one particular protein that appears in stem cells.
The scientists have already begun work to use the protein as a target for a new compound that once developed would kill the stem cells and kill the cancer. Thus, by targeting the stem cells, they would be able to stop the cancer from returning.
Now, the researchers are focusing on adult cancer stem cells because of the major role they play in the start of cancer, the growth of cancer, the spread of cancer and the return of cancer.
Current therapies generally do not target stem cells in tumors. It enables stem cells to wait until after chemotherapy or radiation treatments to begin dividing.
According to the researchers, stem cells are often responsible for the return of cancer after treatment. The identification of the stem cell marker enables researchers to develop new therapeutics that can target these cells.
Adult stem cells work as essential building blocks in organs by replenishing dying cells and regenerating damaged tissues.
It is expected that after completing initial testing, the first phase of clinical trials will begin within 5 years led by Russell Postier, M.D. The compound, if successful in human trials, is expected to be available to the public within 10 years.
One fourth of the funding for the cancer research comes from an 800,000 pounds grant from the National Institutes of Health with remaining funds from the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine.