Stories about: colorectal cancer

Tales from the crypt: Stopping tissue regeneration, and maybe stopping cancer

An intestinal crypt enlarged by runaway tissue regeneration. (Courtesy Evan Barry)

We now know a lot about how the process of tissue regeneration gets started, and how to coax that process along to make repairs. But we know little about how to turn regeneration off, which is essential for keeping an organ at a normal size once the repair is complete. Finding that “off” switch may also be the key to halting growth of another kind: cancer.

Along with many other cancer researchers, Fernando Camargo, PhD, a researcher in the Boston Children’s Hospital Stem Cell Program, is hotly focused on a pathway called Hippo that’s known to regulate organ size. One member of this pathway, known as the “yes-associated protein” or YAP, has been found to say “yes” to growth so vigorously that activating it in mice makes the liver quadruple in size, as Camargo showed in 2007. YAP is also thought to be an oncogene, and has become a popular target in liver, ovarian and other cancers.

But Camargo, research fellow Evan Barry, PhD, and their colleagues recently found that saying “no” to YAP might not always be a good idea.

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The cell from hell: Can we outsmart cancer stem cells?

Cancer stem cells’ clever defenses may be the seeds of their undoing. (Image: leftover bacon/OpenClipArt)

Some scientists still debate the existence of cancer stem cells – rare cells that can singlehandedly perpetuate a tumor, and possibly make it more aggressive.  But others have moved on, isolating candidate cancer stem cells and documenting their distinctive characteristics and markers.

And some are starting to figure out how these cells operate and leverage that knowledge to come up with new approaches to cancer therapy.

Children’s scientist Markus Frank has been building quite a dossier on cancer stem cells, starting with melanoma stem cells. “Many of the features that make a cancer bad seem to be localized in this subpopulation of cells,” he says.

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