• Question: What has stem cells got to do with cancer?

    Asked by karine to James, Jayne, Sharon on 25 Mar 2011 in Categories: .
    • Photo: Sharon Sneddon

      Sharon Sneddon answered on 24 Mar 2011:

      Hi Karine,

      The work I do at the involving breast cancer and stem cells is to look at new ways of treating the disease. At the moment, I am using stemcells to look at why breast tumours spread around the body. When this happens, it can be hard to treat. We have identified a family of genes called caveolins and we think that having these genes in your cells makes the cancer cells spread. Now we know this, we are trying to work out ways of switching this gene off. The other thing we are trying to understand is why radiotherapy is not effective in some people and we think it’s because of the stem cells. Stem cells are really resistant to radiation so if a tumour has lots of stemcells, it’s going to be harder to kill off using radiation.

      Stem cells have been used quite heavily in the past in the treatment of a type of cancer called leukaemia, in the form of a bone marrow transplant. These are usually very sucessful and it’s hoped in the future more cancers will be able to be treated/helped by stem cell research.

    • Photo: James Chan

      James Chan answered on 25 Mar 2011:

      Hi Karine, stem cells can be used as a tool to treat cancer, especially the blood cancers like leukaemia, to replace the defective blood cells. They can also be used to help your body heal after a cancer has been taken out either by surgery or radiotherapy or chemotherapy. Importantly, stem cells can theoretically give rise to cancers, so that’s why we need to do a bit more research on the safety issues to make sure that stem cell treatment is safe before we go ahead and use it regularly.