Stemming the Tide

Ovarian cancer might be treated with the protein noggin

(RxWiki News) Stem cells are like chameleons - they can turn into a number of different types of cells. Scientists are now learning that stem cells may hold the key to treating ovarian cancer.

New research by the University of Michigan (U-M) Comprehensive Cancer Center has uncovered some nasty cell business. A certain kind of normal stem cell recruits cancer stem cells to grow in ovarian tumors. Knowing this may enable scientists to develop ways to stop this deadly behavior.

"Scientists studying a protein that may successfully treat ovarian cancer."

For this research, scientists looked at mesenchymal stem cells in ovarian tissue. These normal cells are found throughout the body and work to form different special cells including fat, bone and cartilage. Mesenchymal stem cells are usualy good guys - they help with wound healing. That's why scientists have supposed that they may be potential soldiers in fighting cancer.

In this study, researchers found that mesenchymal stem cells in ovarian tumors acted differently than mesenchymal stem cells in health ovaries. In fact, these cells were fueling the growth of the cancer!

Study author Ronald Buckanovich, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of internal medicine and of obstetrics and gynecology at the U-M Medical School, says cancer is the ultimate trickster. It can take the normally good, health-promoting mesenchymal stem cells and turn them into killers.

Dr. Buckanovich says the cancer takes these cells "hostage" and makes them help the ovarian cancer to grow.

Working with both normal and diseased human and animal tissue samples, researchers found that mesenchymal stem cells in the cancerous tissue increased tumor size by increasing the number of stem cells. Scientists also found that a particular protein called BMP2 was found in large amounts in the diseased mesenchymal stem cells - about three times the normal amount.

Researchers then used the protein noggin to block the BMP2, which was effective in keeping the stem cells from triggering the cancer to grow.

While promising, there's a problem. High doses of noggin might not be tolerated well in humans, according to Dr. Buckanovich. As a result, more laboratory study is needed to see if this protein may be used as a potential treatment for ovarian cancer.

This study is published online in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

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Review Date: 
July 19, 2011