Science Questions

Could stem cells cause cancer?

Tue, 29th Jan 2013

Part of the show New Brain Cells, Anyone?


Abi via Facebook asked:

Could Stem Cells Cause Cancer?


Hannah -   The last question, and this again is from Abi again asking, “Could stem cells actually cause cancer?”

Andrea -   Well, a few years ago, the cancer stem cell hypothesis was proposed which suggested that many tumours might actually arise from stem cells and I think that there's still some debate about that.  

But there is more evidence that either stem cells, or the cells they give rise to, can, under particular conditions give rise to cancer.  

And again, coming back to the fruit fly, there was some very nice work done by Cayetano Gonzalez’s lab in Barcelona where he showed that if you mutate certain genes in stem cells, they do start to overgrow and can form tumours.  In fact, if you take those tumours, you can transplant them from one animal to the next and they continue to grow and metastasise.  And so, this is quite a nice model for looking at cancer that are generated from stem cells, and what are the signals that prevent stem cells and their becoming tumorigenic.  And this is something that we, amongst others are working on to try to understand what goes wrong in the stem cell or its daughters that give rise to tumours.

Hannah -   So, we may be able to use stem cells to actually find a new way of treating cancer?

Andrea -   Well, that’s a hope.  Some of the basic research that’s going on in various different model systems like in fruit flies or in mouse for example, once we get at the basic biology seem to be well conserved.

Hannah -   That was Professor Andrea Brand at the Gurdon Institute, Cambridge University.  If you’ve got any burning questions about your brain and the nervous system, just email them to, tweet us @nakedneuroscience, or post on our Facebook page and we’ll do our best to answer them for you.



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