December 4, 2008
Power Of Individual Cancer Cells “˜Underestimated’
Researchers have reported that a single cancer cell has enough power to develop a separate cancerous tumor.
Dr Sean Morrison led a team of researchers from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the University of Michigan reported their findings in the journal Nature.
Researchers injected melanoma cells into mice with weakened immune systems. They discovered that 250,000 times as many mice developed tumors.
When single melanoma cells were used, they discovered that roughly one in four of them went on to seed new tumors, researchers said.
"As far as we know, this is the first time anyone has been able to show that individual cells from human cancers can efficiently form tumors," said Morrison.
The team concluded that the problem lies in the general underestimation of individual cancerous cells, Morrison said. They found that this problem translated across other types of cancers as well.
Researchers need to make their tests better to see if their cancers were equally potent, Morrison said.
The team was unsuccessful in pinpointing specific cells that could be more dangerous "cancer stem cells."
While this did not disprove their existence, he said, it could mean that some cancers, such as melanomas, were "good old-fashioned cancer", in which every cell was dangerous.
UK experts said more work was needed to pinpoint exactly how cancer cells work.
"This study suggests that it may not be true for every type of cancer - in melanoma, a much larger proportion of cancer cells are able to give rise to a new tumor," said Ed Yong, spokesman for Cancer Research UK.
"It shows how important it is that we continue to fund research into how cancers develop at a fundamental level."
On The Net:
Cancer Research UK
Howard Hughes Medical Institute