New research suggests that current cancer therapies may be targeting the wrong cells by focusing on the rapidly-dividing cells that form the bulk of the tumour rather than a small population of cancer stem cells.
Stem cells are found in healthy tissue and organs. There, they never stop dividing, and with each division they form two distinct daughter cells - one that remains a stem cell and one that turns into the cells that build the tissue or organ.
Stem cells (or more specifically, cells that have most of the properties of stem cells) have now also been discovered in a number of cancerous tumours, including tumours of the breast, brain, prostate, colon, pancreas, ovary, lung as well as melanoma. They are thought to drive the uncontrolled growth via their modified daughter cells, while remaining in such low numbers themselves that they escape standard cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation.
Mike Berridge, who heads the Mallaghan Institute's Cancer Cell and Molecular Biology Group, and Melanie McConnell explain their research effort to stimulate the immune system to recognise and target these cells in melanoma tumours.