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Stem cell-like origins of ovarian cancer identified

11 March 2013

By Dr Daniel Grimes

Appeared in BioNews 696

The source of stem cell-like cells that can give rise to ovarian cancer in mice has been found, reports a study in the journal Nature. The findings may be important in understanding the origins of the most common form of human ovarian cancer, if the same cells can be found in women.

'Sources of cells that make ovarian tumours are not really known', said Dr Grigori Enikolopov of Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory, New York, who co-led the study. 'We demonstrated that a stem cell population sits in a portion of the ovary called the hilum [...] and that these cells are easily transformed into tumor cells'.

Ninety percent of human ovarian cancers arise from the ovarian epithelium - a layer of cells that line the ovaries. However the specific cells responsible for this type of cancer have been difficult to pinpoint, as most patients are diagnosed at advanced stages of the disease.

Researchers discovered cells in the hilum region of the ovaries in mice that showed stem cell-like properties and the ability to repair the ovarian epithelium when it ruptures during ovulation.

The idea that mutated stem cells can seed cancers is known as the cancer stem cell hypothesis. Building on this theory, the team studied the stem cells of the hilum and found they could be transformed into tumour cells by inactivating two genes known to often be mutated in human ovarian cancer. The genetically manipulated stem cells were transplanted into eight mice; seven of which went on to develop ovarian tumours.

Professor Alexander Nikitin of Cornell University, New York, who co-led the study, told Cancer Research UK (CRUK): 'We now know where these cells are located in mice, so we can look in humans in those areas'.

If these stem cells can be found in women, 'it could have important implications, particularly in explaining why the oral contraceptive pill lowers the risk of this cancer developing', added Dr James Brenton, an ovarian cancer researcher based at the CRUK Cambridge Research Institute, who was not involved in the study. 'If we could understand that, we could be on the way to developing other drugs to prevent the disease - a very exciting prospect'.


19 June 2017 - by Rachel Reeves 
Cancer stem cells, thought to be the root cause of tumour recurrence, could be eradicated using vitamin C and antibiotics, suggests a new study...
02 March 2015 - by Sophie McLachlan 
Researchers have developed a novel approach to cancer treatment using the carbon-based nanomaterial graphene to target cancer stem cells...
19 May 2014 - by Dr Lanay Griessner 
Definitive support for the existence of human cancer stem cells has been found, according to researchers at the University of Oxford and the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden...
03 March 2014 - by Dr Lucy Freem 
Ovary removal to prevent cancer in those with BRCA1 mutations should be carried out by 35, according to research on cancer survival...
09 September 2013 - by Dr Katie Howe 
Researchers have identified a gene in mice that, if faulty, increases the chances of developing ovarian cancer....

01 October 2012 - by Dr Zara Mahmoud 
Scientists have found molecular similarities between a subtype of breast cancer and a hard-to-treat form of ovarian cancer...
13 August 2012 - by Dr Greg Ball 
Three research groups, each studying a different type of cancer in mice, have published results that support the theory that tumour growth is driven by 'cancer stem cells'....
31 January 2012 - by Maria Botcharova 
Two breast cancer drugs, Avastin and Sutent, may inadvertently aid cancer growth, a study in mice suggests. The drugs, designed to reduce the blood supply to tumours, were found to encourage cancer stem cell growth, potentially fuelling the spread of the cancer...
15 August 2011 - by Dr Maria Teresa Esposito 
Scientists have discovered a rare genetic fault that raises a woman's risk of developing ovarian cancer six-fold. It has been hailed as the most important discovery in the field in the last ten years, and offers hope for new treatments...

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