Scientists in the UK claim to have identified a cancer cell from which all cancer growth starts. The discovery of the cell, which they are calling ‘the cell of origin’ sheds new light on what fuels cancer growth and potentially how to stop it. Lead researcher Professor Michael P Lisanti said: “If, as we believe, we have found the beginning of the road, we may have to press the reset button on how we treat cancer with drugs.”
Describing the cell and its functions in the Journal Frontiers in Oncology, the team from the Biomedical Research Centre at the University of Salford say the findings “rewrite what we know about the process of cancer growth” and offer new evidence that cancer stem cells are highly proliferative and driven by mitochondrial function.
Using auto-florescence techniques, the Salford team isolated the most energetic cells in a series of cell lines of cancer cells derived from human breast tumours. It found that the most dynamic cancer stem cells, representing 0.2% of the cell population, had special characteristics, with significantly more energy than average cancer cells.
The team then cross-checked the cell’s ‘performance’ in terms of mitochondrial hyperfunction, rate of proliferation and a factor they call ‘stemness’, and found the cells displayed characteristics of senescence, with one biomarker of senescence, namely p21-WAF, increased by around 17-fold in these cancer stem cells. The explanation for this appears to be in how the cells become re-energised. They may have used antioxidants and mitochondrial energy to release themselves and so reverse cell cycle arrest.