In an extraordinary breakthrough in cancer research, scientists from the Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium and the University of Cambridge have discovered what they call the “cell of origin,” the first cell from which cancer grows in the body. The study involved basal cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer. Using mice, they were able to follow that first cell through the chain of events that led to the growth of invasive tumors.
The study was published in the journal Nature this month, where researchers showed how skin stem cells and progenitor cells react to the activation of an oncogene (a gene that can, in the right environment, trigger the growth of tumors). The study’s findings indicate that while progenitor cells cause nonthreatening lesions, its stem cells have the right makeup to develop into aggressive skin cancers.
Human skin is kept healthy by shedding and replacing skin cells. At the heart of this process are the progenitor cells, the foundation of stem cells. These cells divide and develop into different skin cells that replenish dying skin and are bolstered by smaller stem cells that are ready to repair damaged skin in the process if needed.
It’s during this process, though, that matters can go wrong, and if they do then skin cancers can arise from that cell of origin. Oncogenes or damaged DNA might trigger the uncontrollable proliferation of cells which can then grow into tumors, which is of course the hallmark of cancer.
This research tells scientists that stem cells are the culprits when it comes to skin cancers, starting with an oncogene in a stem cell triggering too much cell division and growth. New therapies for skin cancer are possible outcome of this research, as it can help determine the best ways to target tumors and stop them before they become malignant.
“Where Did it All Go Wrong? Scientists Identify ‘Cell of Origin’ in Skin Cancers,” University of Cambridge web site; http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/where-did-it-all-go-wrong-scientists-identify-cell-of-origin-in-skin-cancers, last accessed July 12, 2016.