Dr. Kevin Dalby, UT Austin Professor, studies how stem cells cause and cure cancer

Scientists around the world dedicate their lives to the discovery of cancer treatments. They have found that gene mutations in the cells lead to abnormal cell growth and cause cancer. However, more research needs to be done to determine what causes the genetic mutations in the cells. Here, UT Austin professor Kevin Dalby discusses the recent research that answers the question: Can stem cells cause and cure cancer?

Fibroblast Growth Factor (FGF) is a common growth factor used to expand stem cells. Researchers have found that FGF is beneficial for growing cancer stem cells obtained from brain and breast tumor tissue. Studies show that FGF also appears to play an important role in prostate cancer.

Research indicates that problems or errors in the way FGF is sent and received can activate previously dormant stem cells, believed to cause cancer. This discovery has important implications for future cancer therapies.

Most cells in the body express the FGF protein, but there are many different types, making it challenging for researchers to understand their role in cell communication.

Studies show that not all cancer cells are the same even within the same tumor. Cancer stem cells are often found in a tumor, and many researchers believe that understanding these stem cells is essential to prevent cancer from developing and relapsing.

FGF miscommunication between cells has been described as similar to a game of ‘telephone’. The miscommunication activates previously dormant stem cells in one organ, which then miscommunicates with other cells in the same system. This, in turn, allows the cancer stem cells to multiply and spread, affecting other systems in the body.

Researchers believe that cancer stem cells can initiate the reproduction and growth of dormant cells in cancer. The cancer stem cells that are inactive in the tumor may explain the relapse of tumors after the surgical removal of the primary tumor or other cancer treatments.

In some cases, years after the patient has been declared cancer free, breast or prostate cancer can return to other organs. This is an indication that cancer had spread before it was initially discovered. The cause of this may be the existence of cancer stem cells.

The goal of understanding stem cells and the FGF family of cell signaling proteins is to try to find ways to prevent cancer rather than treat it only after it occurs. These new technologies are expected to one day eliminate the need for chemotherapy and radiation therapy and their adverse effects.

Chemotherapy uses certain drugs to shrink or kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy kills these cells with high-energy rays such as X-rays or protons. Both chemotherapy and radiation can damage healthy cells and kill cancer cells. These treatments are often associated with unpleasant side effects.

In summary, researchers believe that if they can manage how cancer stem cells remain inactive and how they are stimulated, they can prevent cancer. It’s about how stem cells talk to each other. It’s still early days, but these findings are expected to allow significant progress in the fight against cancer.

About Kevin Dalby

Dr. Kevin Dalby is a UT Austin professor of medicinal chemistry. He is researching the mechanisms of cancer cell signaling to develop targeted therapies. Dr. Dalby’s efforts were recognized by the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) and the National Institutes of Health, and donated nearly $ 5 million to support his research.

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