Stem cell discovery important for cancer

THE discovery of a unique marker on stem cells from the gut, liver and pancreas could eventually allow scientists to diagnose cancer earlier and develop new treatments, a Melbourne scientist says.

Professor Martin Pera from Stem Cells Australia and an international team developed an antibody that identifies and isolates the marker, which sits on the outer surface of stem cells and another type of cell called a progenitor.

These cells are particularly hard to find in the pancreas and liver.

By identifying the markers, the cells can be isolated and extracted for study in the laboratory, where scientists can observe what happens to the cells during the disease process and in repair and regeneration.

Prof Pera, who is also chair of Stem Cell Sciences at the University of Melbourne, said the number of cells with the marker expanded during pancreatic and esophageal cancer, and liver cirrhosis.

"It may well be that they are precursors of the cancers," Prof Pera told AAP.

He said if the marker could be found in the blood of cancer patients, it could allow sufferers to be diagnosed earlier and provide new approaches to treatment, which could involve developing drugs to target the marker on cancer cells.

"Cancers of the liver, pancreas and oesophagus are often very difficult to detect and challenging to treat," Prof Pera said.

He will continue his investigations into liver, pancreatic and gut stem cells with Dr Kouichi Hasegawa, who conducts stem cell research in Japan and India.

The research was published in the journal Stem Cell.

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Stem cell discovery important for cancer

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