Biomarker spotted for colon cancer stem cells

Kyoto University scientists say they've successfully linked a biomarker to colon cancer stem cells in a mouse study, offering another potential way to develop a targeted cancer treatment with minimal side effects. The journal Nature Genetics published details of the findings, and Japan's The Asahi Shimbun newspaper offers a solid highlight of their work.

For their research, the team zeroed in on DCLK1, a protein involved in nerve-cell growth that appeared in mouse colon cancer stem cells but not normal stem cells. In the trial, a targeted treatment destroyed the bulk of the cancer cells with DCLK1, as well as their stem cells, according to the story.

Cancer stem cells remain a hotly debated topic, and experts continue to disagree as to how targeting them can improve a cancer patient's survival. The Kyoto team believes, however, that a cancer can be banished by targeting cancer stem cells through DCLK1. Those stem cells can survive, the story notes, even in the face of anti-cancer drug treatments, and so the more precise targeting, they argue, could make all the difference in future treatments.

If it is true, this may be the first time that scientists have identified a cancer stem cell biomarker that is not also in normal stem cells. Previously, targeting such a biomarker with an anti-cancer drug could also harm regular stem cells in the body. But as the article points out, a biomarker unique to cancer stem cells could allow for a more targeted treatment down the line. Could DCLK1 offer a potential target for future colon cancer treatments by hitting cancer stem cells that contain the protein? Possibly. But there remains plenty more research to be done before scientists can move this theory to the next level. In reality, such a targeted treatment may be a long way off, but the Kyoto team opens the door to further work.

- read The Asahi Shimbun article
- consider the journal abstract

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