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amatokin
The evolving stem cell story. Will we live a thousand years?
By Dross at 2008-04-17 09:21
 

Stem cells are everywhere in the news these days. It seems that everywhere you turn they are being applied to uses as varied as heart repair to cloning of your favorite species of animal. If you are confused as to what stem cell is or isn't, or if you think they are illegal, read on. In the human body we have an enormous number of stem cells. Skin stem cells, blood stem cells, liver stem cells, and unfortunately even cancer stem cells. So what makes a stem cell? and what makes a cancer stem cell?

As of a few months ago, the Holy Grail of stem cell science was found. In a suite of papers in Nature Stem Cell, researchers were able to turn ordinary skin cells into cells capable of differentiating into many other cells, in effect taking the cell backwards in time, and providing a base for the creation of other cells that patient might need. The breakthrough was done by modifying only four genes in the cell. Imagine then that a cancer cell could, randomly, activate the same genes. So then what tells the cell what it should be? Its environment. Scientists have found that the answer to a cell's life cycle lies in large part outside of the cell. The key is the Extracellular Matrix, which mediates biochemical and biomechanical interactions with a cell. As stated in the Journal of Cell Biology "A common feature of mammary epithelial tumors in vivo is a disruption of tissue organization and polarity. Consistent with their structural function, catenin-cadherin- cytoskeletal interactions have been shown to be frequently altered in breast cancers, and loss of cell-cell interactions is associated with altered tissue organization and increased tumor invasiveness." In short, when a cancerous cell was tricked into believing it was receiving the proper signals from its environement it no longer acted in a cancerous fashion.

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