Bone marrow link offers hope for cancer treatment
Australian scientists say they have discovered that cancer-growing cells originate in bone marrow, a breakthrough which they say could lead to new treatment for all cancers.
Although the results of bone marrow transplant and cancer-link are still preliminary, they come from human trials and confirm earlier test results on mice.
Dr Michael Michael, from the Flinders Medical Centre in Adelaide, and Dr Daniel Worthley, from the Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR), have long discussed the possibility that cancer-growing cells, known as fibroblasts, originate from bone marrow.
The medical mystery of where fibroblast cells come from has proven a crucial stumbling block, as the cells nourish cancer and drive the growth and spread of tumours.
It has taken two years of research, much of this on bone marrow transplant patients, to come to this point.
Both researchers stress that these are preliminary findings. Nevertheless, Dr Worthley says the potential ramifications for better cancer treatment from their discovery are huge.
"If these cells come from another place, so not from the cancer, then theoretically we might be able to modify how well they're recruited to the cancer, and this might be a new way of applying this research to the treatment of cancers or even the prevention of cancers," he said.
More human trials over the next two months on patients identified by the Bone Marrow Transplant Registry will hopefully confirm the scientists' initial findings.
Dr Michael says that will open up the possibility of how their research can be applied.
"We think that the tumours recruit these stem-like cells and seem to turn them into fibroblast-like cells, which the tumour uses to support it and help it develop," he said.
He says these cells are present in gastric cancers and possibly in other types.
"We're still at the fairly early stages, and the cancers that we've seen at the moment are gastric cancers, but we're now looking in a variety of different types of cancers, including skin cancers and cervical cancers," he said.
"There is the possibility that if these things are necessary for the tumours to develop, and if we can work out a strategy of preventing these fibroblast-like cells from developing, we might be able to retard tumour growth. So that would be great."
With such an exciting potential development in the treatment of cancer, Dr Worthley hopes that the pair's initial gut feeling is further proven by more extensive tests.
"It's possible that [the fibroblast cells] have a role in a large number of different cancers, so exciting preliminary results that need to be confirmed with some further work in the lab, but it's a good time to be involved in cancer research," he said.