Benjamin Dekel, the head of the Pediatric Stem Cell Research Institute in Tel Aviv, Israel, and his team have isolated cancer stem cells from tumors found in the kidneys of some children. Wilms’ tumor is an inherited for of cancer that is found in the kidneys of particular children at a young age. Fortunately, these tumors are easily removed, but these children are at risk for other cancers throughout their lives.
Accord to Professor Dekel, “In earlier studies, cancer stem cells were isolation from adult cancers of the breast, pancreas, and brain, but so far much less is known about stem cells in pediatric cancers.” Professor Dekel continued, “Cancer stem cells contain the complete genetic machinery necessary to start, sustain and propagate tumor growth and they are often referred to as cancer initiating cells. As such, they not only represent a useful system to study cancer development but they also serve as a way to study new drug targets and potential treatments designed to stop the growth and spread of different types of cancer. We have demonstrated for the first time the presence of cancer stem cells in a type of tumor that is often found in children.”
Wilm’s tumors represent the most frequent type of kidney tumor found in children, and while children do usually respond well if the tumors are removed early surgically and if the patients are given chemotherapy, recurrences are possible and they can spread to other tissues.
Conventional chemotherapy is toxic to all cells in the body and if given to children may lead to the development of secondary cancers when they become adults. Thus, scientists would like to target tumor cells in as specific a manner as possible.
Researchers were able to remove parts of the tumors of cancer patients and graft them into mice. This procedure allowed researchers to test for the presence of cancer stem cells, since only the cancer stem cells could propagate the tumor from one animal to another. In the case of Wilms’ tumor, it was clear that cancer stem cells were present and could even be isolated from the rest of the tumor cells.