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Researchers discover way to use current treatments for cancer, follow breast cancer’s example

June 28th, 2017

Cancer stem cells are immortal cells within a tumour that can divide and self-renew as well as give rise to many cell types that make up the tumour. Cancer stem cells are important because researchers believe they may be the reason that cancer comes back after treatment.

According to a team of researchers at McMaster University in Canada a there is now a way to use existing drugs to kill cancer stem cells. Additionally, a unique feature of cancer stem cells may be used to ensure targeted cancer therapies are given to the right patients.

This idea is central to the emerging trend of ‘precision medicine’, an area of focus for breast cancer researchers who are increasingly looking to match the most effective treatment to patients’ specific tumour type.

How the research discovery will help

Cancer stem cells stained for protein Sam68

The Canadian researchers found that a particular protein called Sam68 plays an important role in cancer stem cells and that this protein allows drugs that have already been developed to kill cancer cells.

Mick Bhatia, principal investigator of the study and scientific director of the McMaster Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute hopes the results from this study can be used to deliver targeted therapies to the patients who would benefit from them while sparing others from unhelpful and toxic treatments.

He believes that treatment of blood cancers like leukaemia and other cancers such as prostate, colon and renal will follow the example already being set in breast cancer.

“In the case of breast cancer, other researchers have found new ways to make existing drugs more effective by only giving them to people who were likely to benefit based on their specific traits and using drugs that target these traits,” Bhatia said.

He said while developing a new drug takes an average of about 15 years and comes with a price tag in the hundreds of millions, defining the role of existing drugs to use them better in patients will help to accelerate the process of bringing the right drugs to the right people.