Chemotherapy or radiation therapy leads to loss of stem cells that ends in anaemia, appetite and weight loss in cancer patients.
The loss of adult stem cells is particularly dangerous, as they are the ones responsible for making new blood and intestine cells. Scientists have long known that during cancer therapy, the tumour suppressor p53 is activated, which leads cells to stop dividing, go into hibernation and undergo a programmed cell death called apoptosis.
They've also known that a gene called Puma is critical for p53 to initiate the cell death of DNA-damaged cells, reports Nature.
"If you can suppress Puma function, you can rescue a lot of the adult stem cells that would otherwise be lost after the accumulation of DNA damage such as during cancer therapy," he added.
The team published its findings in this week's advance online issue of the journal Nature Cell Biology.