Scientists at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg and the Institute of Biomedical Research of the Parc Científic de Barcelona (IRB-PCB) have now added key evidence to claims that some types of cancer originate with defects in stem cells. The study, reported this week in the on-line edition of Nature Genetics (September 4) shows that if key molecules arent placed in the right locations within stem cells before they divide, the result can be deadly tumors.
Cells in the very early embryo are interchangeable and undergo rapid division. Soon, however, they begin differentiating into more specific types, finally becoming specialized cells like neurons, blood, or muscle. As they differentiate, they should stop dividing and usually become embedded in particular tissues. Some tumor cells are more like stem cells because they are identical, they divide quickly, and in the worst case - metastasize - they wander through the body and implant themselves in new tissues.
Specialized cells may die through age or injuries, so the body keeps stocks of stem cells on hand to generate replacements. Usually the stem cell divides into two types: one that is just like the parent, which is kept to maintain the stock, and another that differentiates. This is what happens with neuroblasts. Cell division creates one large neuroblast and a smaller cell that can become part of a nerve. This process is controlled by events that happen prior to division. The parent cell becomes asymmetrical: it collects a set of special molecules, including Prospero and other proteins, in the area that will bud off and become the specialized cell.
Sarah Sherwood | EMBL
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