Study prompts new ideas on cancers’ origins

11Jason Mills, M.D., Ph.D. Principal Investigator, and Megan Radyk, B.S. Ph.D. Student – Molecular Cell Biology, have found that although many cancer therapies target rapidly dividing stem cells, in the case of many cancers, the cells that cause problems are mature cells that have been reprogrammed to help fight tissue injuries. MATT MILLER/WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE
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Rapidly dividing, yet aberrant stem cells are a major source of cancer. But a new study suggests that mature cells also play a key role in initiating cancer — a finding that could upend the way scientists think about the origins of the disease.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found that mature cells have the ability to revert back to behaving more like rapidly dividing stem cells. However, when old cells return to a stem cell-like status, they can carry with them all of the mutations that have accumulated to date, predisposing some of those cells to developing into precancerous lesions.