During a study, scientists at the University of Utah and the Forsyth Institute at Harvard found that the flatworm contains a gene highly similar to the human gene PTEN, which is often found to be mutated in cancer cases.
The researchers observed the presence of PTEN in many planaria cell types, including stem cells.
They also found that the disruption of PTEN pathways in the cell resulted in abnormal growths, drastic changes in body shape, and, eventually, death.
Based on their observations, they came to the conclusion that planaria can be used for researching the biology of human stem cells and cancer cells.
The study has been published in the journal Disease Models and Mechanisms (DMM).