Cancer cells are dormant during chemotherapy
2012-12-17 0:00

By Lia Grainger |

A team of Toronto cancer researchers have made a breakthrough they say will change the way cancer is studied and even treated.

The team, led by stem cell scientist John Dick of The Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, has discovered that some cancer cells are able to hide from chemotherapy because they are "dormant", only to reactivate at a later time after chemo to cause a recurrence of the disease.

Dick suggests future treatments might involve targeting these dormant cells to become active before chemotherapy, so that they cannot hide from the treatment. One possibility is that changing the location of these cells could activate them and make them susceptible to chemotherapy.

"I suspect that their dormancy also has to do with the environment they are in," says Dick.

He explains that within a tumour, there are a wide range of cells, including ones that are not cancerous, like blood vessels that provide oxygen and allow for cell growth. It’s possible that cancer cells that are not near these types of life-sustaining cells may become dormant, and by moving them, they will become active.

All of these ideas are sure to be the subjects of future investigation.

Perhaps the most surprising finding for Dick and his team is that these dormant cells are genetically identical to the cells that had caused the original cancer.

"These cells share the same genetics, but vary widely in chemotherapy resistance," says Dick. "We stumbled onto something that is a paradox shift in the field."


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