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Published on 24 September 2010

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Bowel cancer research breakthrough

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A study about cells in the intestine could change bowel cancer treatments, according to Cancer Research UK scientists.

The study, which has been published online in Science, revealed that gut stem cells replace themselves in a markedly different way to previously held theories.

It had been believed that a hierarchical system meant that only a few stem cells in the intestine were able to produce the cells required for that part of the body. But the Cancer Research UK scientists discovered that there was no hierarchy, with cells adopting more of a “one in one out” process.

Dr Doug Winton, who led the research, compared the original theory to chess, where all of the pieces have different powers from the Queen down to a pawn.

He said that the new study showed the process was more like a game of draughts, with each piece having equal abilities to progress or fail.

For the research, Dr Winton’s team examined the individual cells in mice, studying how they changed and what happened when they proliferated into clones.

The researchers concluded that as stem cells were lost, neighbouring cells multiplied to replace them, meaning that each stem cell had an equal chance of producing other cells in the gut.

The authors said they hoped the results, which were analysed using statistical physics and population dynamics, would offer fresh insight into the flexibility of the intestinal wall and enhance understanding of cell behaviour and cancer.

Copyright Press Association 2010

Intestinal Stem Cell Replacement Follows a Pattern of Neutral Drift



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