In a genetic engineering breakthrough that could help everyone from bed-ridden patients to elite athletes, a team of American researchers—including 2007 Nobel Prize winner Mario R. Capecchi—have created a “switch” that allows mutations or light signals to be turned on in muscle stem cells to monitor muscle regeneration in a living mammal. For humans, this work could lead to a genetic switch, or drug, that allows people to grow new muscle cells to replace those that are damaged, worn out, or not working for other reasons (e.g., muscular dystrophy). In addition, this same discovery also gives researchers a new tool for the study of difficult-to-treat muscle cancers. The full report containing details of this advance is available online in The FASEB Journal.
Madison, Wisconsin – More than a decade of laboratory research at the University of Wisconsin has proven that a single chemical compound may both detect and treat malignant tumors and certain cancer stem cells.
In three posters presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) in Chicago, March 31-April 4, UW-Madison researchers describe exciting advances involving CLR1404, described as a “diapeutic” agent that can both image and destroy a wide range of malignant tumors and the one type of cancer stem cells examined so far.
The presentations are based on basic research in the lab of Dr. Jamey Weichert, associate professor of radiology at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH) and a member of the UW Carbone Cancer Center (CCC).
Clinicians at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health and elsewhere are interested in assessing CLR1404′s potential. Several clinical trials evaluating both the cancer imaging and therapeutic capabilities of CLR1404 are under way at the Carbone Cancer Center, with more scheduled to begin soon.
Dr. John Kuo, director of the Comprehensive Brain Tumor Program at UW Hospital and Clinics and a cancer stem-cell scientist at the School of Medicine and Public Health, is studying the possibility of using CLR1404 to treat glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), a deadly form of brain cancer, by targeting GBM stem cells.
In one of the American Association for Cancer Research posters (#3495), Kuo and Weichert describe how CLR1404 decreases glioblastoma stem cell activity, suppresses GBM growth and improves animal survival.
Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) scientists have discovered that endothelial cells, the building blocks of the vascular system, keep blood stem cells dividing healthily in a lab dish much longer and more effectively than previous methods of growing the cells. The new advance dramatically improves scientists’ ability to manufacture large quantities of authentic adult blood stem cells, which may help revolutionize the field of bone marrow transplantation.
Shahin Rafii, an HHMI investigator at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, and his colleagues report on the development of an endothelial cell platform that supports self-renewal of the blood stem cells, known as long-term hematopoietic stem cells (LT-HSCs), in the March 2010 issue of the journal Cell Stem Cell. Their study also describes a novel mechanism by which endothelial cells support propagation of LT-HSCs in adult mice.
Scientists at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, UK, have shown how plants can protect themselves against genetic damage caused by environmental stresses. The growing tips of plant roots and shoots have an in-built mechanism that, if it detects damage to the DNA, causes the cell to ‘commit suicide’ rather than pass on its defective DNA.
Plants have, at the very tips of their roots and shoots, small populations of stem cells, through which they are able to grow and produce new tissue throughout the plant’s life. These stem cells are the precursors to producing plant tissues and organs. This means that any defect that arises in the stem cell’s genetic code will be passed on and persist irreversibly throughout the life of the plant, which may last thousands of years.
It is therefore critical that there are safeguards that prevent stem cell defects becoming fixed, particularly as the stem cells exist at the growing tips of shoots and roots where they are especially exposed to potentially hazardous environments.
Nick Fulcher and Robert Sablowski, with funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), set out to discover what these safeguards could be. By using X-rays and chemicals they were able to induce damage to DNA, and found that stem cells were much more sensitive to DNA damage than other cells. The cells are able to detect the DNA damage, triggering the death of these cells, thus preventing the damaged genetic code becoming fixed in the rest of the plant tissues.
A similar system exists in animal cells, which has been very well investigated, as the failure of this system can lead to cancer. The discovery of a similar, although distinct system in plants is therefore of great interest in the field of plant development, as well as in the efforts of scientists to develop plants better able to cope with environmental stress.
Drought, high salinity and the accumulation of hazardous chemicals in the soil are side-effects of a changing climate, so knowledge of how plants cope with theses stresses is of fundamental importance to agricultural science’s response to climate change. This is one aim of the research carried out by the John Innes Centre, an institute of the BBSRC.
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An experimental drug currently being tested against breast and lung cancer shows promise in fighting the brain cancer glioblastoma and prostate cancer, researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have found in two preclinical studies.
The drug’s actions, observed in isolated human cells in one trial and in rodents in the other, are especially encouraging because they attacked not only the bulk of the tumor cells but also the rare cancer stem cells that are believed to be responsible for most of a cancer’s growth, said Dr. Jerry Shay, professor of cell biology and a senior co-author of both papers. The glioblastoma study appears in the January issue of Clinical Cancer Research. The prostate cancer study is available online in the International Journal of Cancer.