A breast cancer cell – but where did it come from?
Our bodies are made of hundreds of different types of cells. And when processes inside them go wrong, and allow them to keep dividing uncontrollably, cancers form.
But individual cells are very small – by the time tumours (which are made of millions of cells) are large enough to be detected, the cells that make them up have evolved and changed along the way.
This makes it difficult to trace a particular tumour’s origins – especially given that we’re now discovering that there are many different types (and subtypes) of cancer. Researchers have long wondered what types of cell different tumours originate from, and what triggers them to ‘go rogue’ in the first place.
A fascinating study from our researchers in Cambridge, published late last year, has begun to help answer these questions – at least for breast cancers.
The team, led by Dr John Stingl, traced the ancestry of different types of cell within normal, healthy breast tissue. And they found clues as to how these diverse cell types might be related to some of the different types of breast cancer.
We’re going to look in detail at what they did – and why it’s an important step forward in understanding the disease. But before leaping into the murky world of biological ‘family trees’, it’s worth a quick pause to look at what breasts are made of.
It was another day of fascinating talks
It’s been another packed day at the NCRI conference, full of interesting discussion and debate (as were yesterday’s and Sunday’s sessions).
But before we get stuck into the day’s events, it’s worth flagging the overnight media coverage from the meeting, with OnMedica covering this story on prostate screening, while the BBC was one of several news outlets to cover a promising potential method to detect cancer.
And now to the main event.
Researchers are homing in on the ‘stem cells’ that seem to drive some forms of cancer (Image courtesy of Science/AAAS)
Biology has its share of contentious issues, and the existence of cancer ‘stem cells’ – treatment-resistant cells at the heart of a tumour – is certainly controversial.
We’ve written before about these enigmatic cells, but they’ve made the headlines again this week, so we wanted to re-visit the issue.
The headlines appeared thanks to the publication of three exciting research papers in top international journals, Science and Nature, which showed, in beautiful, fluorescent detail, the development of tumours from what look to be some form of ‘stem-like’ cell.
Let’s have a look at what the researchers did, and what it means.
Being told your child has cancer is every parent’s worst nightmare. But every year, around 1500 families are given this devastating news. And while survival rates for childhood cancers have improved significantly, around 300 children still lose their lives to cancer each year.
That’s 300 too many and we’re determined to bring that number down to zero. To do that, we need to have the brightest and most committed minds on board. So, in April this year, we were pleased to support an application for funding from Professor Josef Vormoor and Dr Olaf Heidenreich, both at the Northern Institute for Cancer Research in Newcastle.
Professor Josef Vormoor is an expert on childhood acute lymphoblast leukaemia.
Professor Vormoor is a children’s cancer doctor at the Great North Children’s Hospital specialising in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) and in our latest Expert Opinion interview, he and Dr Heidenreich talk about their plans to transform treatment for children with ALL. Continue reading
The NCRI Cancer Conference is in full swing
The NCRI conference began in earnest yesterday afternoon, with the presentation of a Cancer Research UK ‘lifetime achievement’ award to The Institute of Cancer Research’s Professor Chris Marshall.
Professor Marshall has been funded by Cancer Research UK and our predecessor, The Cancer Research Campaign, for around 30 years. He treated us to a selection of his ‘greatest hits’, focusing on his work in cell signalling – the molecular signals that ensure cells know when to multiply, die and move – and how this goes wrong in cancer.
Looking back over the past three decades, he highlighted how we’ve moved in a remarkably short time from knowing virtually nothing about the faulty genes and molecules that drive cancer to having a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips. Many of these molecules are involved in cell signalling, and there are a number of exciting potential drugs in the pipeline that target them.
Cancer Research UK’s Senior Science Information Manager, Dr Julie Sharp, reports from this year’s US cancer conference
Dr George Sledge, addressing the ASCO 2011 conference
Around 30,000 cancer doctors and researchers have gathered in Chicago for the annual American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) conference. It’s an opportunity for cancer specialists to hear the very latest results from trials of new treatments, and learn more about hot topics such as personalised medicine or new DNA sequencing technologies.
In his welcome speech, outgoing ASCO president Dr George Sledge discussed the challenges ahead as we enter what he termed an ‘era of genomics’.
In the not-too-distant future, according to Dr Sledge, fast and cheap technologies will be used to map each patient’s genetic make-up, compare it with that of their cancer and highlight all the faults in their DNA that affect how their cancer responds to treatment.
While this information has the power to transform treatment for patients around the world, there are still huge challenges ahead for scientists and doctors. As the costs of analysing – or ‘sequencing’ – DNA plummet, doctors need to find ways to start translating this new genetic knowledge in a way that’s useful and beneficial for patients.
Click on the image to listen to the latest podcast
This month we’ve got an exclusive in-depth interview with Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician Professor Peter Johnson and our newly-appointed chief scientist, Professor Nic Jones.
They discuss the challenges that we face in cancer research over the coming years, how lab scientists and cancer doctors can work better together, the new technology that’s shaping our research, and whether we will ever pin down that elusive “cure for cancer”.
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