Scientists have identified a type of cancer stem cell (CSC) that causes metastasis of a fatal human pancreatic cancer.
CSCs are thought to be a small population of tumour cells that, like normal stem cells, are self-replicating and generate differentiated cells.
The cancer in question, pancreatic adenocarcinoma, is the fourth leading cause of cancer death and is relatively incurable due to its early metastatic spread and high resistance to radiation and chemotherapy.
Researchers from Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich discovered that human pancreatic cancer tissue contains tumorigenic- and chemotherapy-resistant stem cells. They hope that identifying these cells, defined by the presence of a molecule called CD133, will lead to more accurate individual prognoses and thus more targeted therapies.
Lead author Dr Christopher Heeschen said: "The further molecular characterisation of the pancreatic CSCs identified in the present study will be crucial for the development of new therapeutic strategies to eliminate these tumorigenic and metastatic cells.
"This may eventually provide a more effective treatment for our patients suffering from this deadly disease. In this respect, the demonstrated possibility of expanding pancreatic CSCs in vitro will dramatically help us in the evaluation of drug efficacy."