Canadian scientists and surgeons are developing a promising new approach to treating colorectal cancer by disarming the gene that drives the growth of stem cells that are the root cause of disease, resistance to treatment, and relapse.
The approach, pioneered by researchers at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, could open a new line of defense on colorectal cancer, the third leading cause of cancer-related death worldwide.
"This is the first step toward clinically applying the principles of cancer stem cell biology to control cancer growth and advance the development of durable cures," said John Dick, M.D., who led the research published online in the journal Nature Medicine
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Dr. Dick is a pioneer in cancer stem research, identifying leukemia stem cells in 1994 and colon cancer stem cells in 2007.
For the new research, his team replicated human colon cancer in mice to determine if specifically targeting the stem cells could be a treatment option. The results showed the gene known as BMI-1, already implicated in maintaining stem cells in other cancers, is a pivotal regulator of colon cancer stem cells and drives the growth and spread of tumors. The team then identified a molecule that blocks BMI-1 — offering a potential new way to target colorectal cancer.
"When we blocked the BMI-1 pathway, the stem cells were unable to self-renew, which resulted in long-term and irreversible impairment of tumor growth,” Dr. Dick explained. "In other words, the cancer was permanently shut down."
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