How targeting metabolism can defeat cancer stem cells
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IMAGE: This is Max S. Wicha, M.D. view more 

Credit: Michigan Medicine

ANN ARBOR, Michigan — Researchers are the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer are unraveling a crucial thread that explains why cancer so often becomes resistant to treatment.

In a breakthrough finding in 2003, Max S. Wicha, M.D., and colleagues discovered that a small number of cells within a tumor – the cancer stem cells – were responsible for fueling the growth and spread of cancer. Kill the stem cells, and you could master the cancer.

But cancer is like a game of whack-a-mole. Strike it down in one place and it pops back up in another.

Now, researchers have found that cancer stem cells exist in more than one state and are very plastic, meaning they can change form, sliding back and forth between a dormant state and a rapidly growing state. This plasticity is responsible for cancer’s two key characteristics: multiplying and spreading.

“When we use targeted therapies, they often only work for a certain period of time, and then the cancer becomes resistant. A lot of that resistance is from the cancer stem cells. They change form to evade the targeted therapy,” says Wicha, Madeline

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