Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Cancer Stem Cells


Cancer Stem Cells

Cancer Stem Cells

Cancers occur when cells divide uncontrollably and form a tumour which is malicious to the body. Stem cells, on the other hand, are unspecialised cells that are capable of differentiating into cells that can be used in the body. However, it is not often we hear the words stem cells, and cancer, linked together. The journal article, “Cancer Stem Cells: A Novel Paradigm for Cancer Prevention and Treatment” by Subramaniam et al., looks at cancer stem cells (CSCs).



Stem cells often relate to medical treatment and sometimes, ethical issues. The really interesting thing about this article is that the stem cells under investigation are actually detrimental to the human body.a CSCs are stem cells that are found within a tumour that act like pluripotent stem cells – cells that are capable of differentiating into any cell except embryonic cells – but can differentiate and multiply to maintain or form a tumour. They are akin to evil masterminds behind tumours.

So, what is the significance of these cancer stem cells? It all comes down to the treatment of cancer. Chemotherapy is one of the most common treatments for cancer. It works by targeting and destroying rapidly dividing cells in the body – including hair cells. Since the cancer cells of a tumour are multiplying at a very fast rate, chemotherapy is effective in destroying tumours.

Chemotherapy Drugs
CSCs however, are capable of staying dormant within tumours and thus, do not get affected by chemotherapy. As such, even after the tumour cells are destroyed by the chemotherapy drug, the CSCs can be activated and will multiply to form a new tumour. Hence, if the CSCs are not eliminated, cancers can always relapse and cancer cannot be fully treated. This is the main reason why relapses occur in cancer patients. It is from this perspective that the scientists in the journal article chose to research a method of cancer treatment that attacks the CSCs instead.


Phytochemicals
After experimentation, the scientists discovered that certain dietary phytochemicals – which are chemicals that are found naturally in plants – can sensitise and target chemotherapy-resistant CSCs, then exposing them and allowing chemotherapy drugs to attack CSCs as well. However, more research must be done to determine whether this treatment method is viable as this was only tested on certain types of tumours.

Nevertheless, a combination of phytochemicals and chemotherapy drugs could be the future of medical treatment for cancer. Now that there is knowledge of the existence of these cancer stem cells, a more effective treatment for cancer might soon be invented. If the CSCs can be targeted specifically and destroyed, tumours can be treated with much less trauma on the human body.

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