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Published on 14 August 2009

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Cancer drug targets “mother” cells


Scientists have made a major breakthrough in the fight against cancer, finding a drug that can target the deadly “mother” cells which give birth to tumours.

It is the first time that scientists have found a drug that can selectively kill cancer stem cells. Many solid tumour cancers, such as prostate, breast, lung and bowel, are believed to be renewed by stem cell “parents”.

These are often resistant to therapy agents and is the reason why tumours often grow back after initial treatments, but the drug, called salinomycin, can deliver a lasting blow to the cancer stem cells.

Salinomycin was found to be over 100 times more effective at destroying stem cells than chemotherapy agent Taxol. The drug was tested on mice and it slowed the growth of the animal’s tumours, while stem cells treated with the drug were less able to seed new tumours than those treated with Taxol.

“The ability to generate such cells in the laboratory … made it possible to identify this chemical. There surely will be dozens of others with similar properties found over the next several years,” said Dr Robert Weinberg, one of the scientists from the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Boston, Massachusetts.

Copyright Press Association 2009

Whitehead Institution for Biomedical Research

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