PASADENA, Calif.—Researchers in the Division of Biology at the California Institute of Technology, in collaboration with UCLA's Jonsson Cancer Center, have discovered that brain tumors may be derived from the cells that form the nervous system. These cells, called neural stem cells, may help researchers understand how this cancer begins, which could one day lead to improved diagnosis and treatment.
The study, published this week in the online edition of the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that pediatric brain tumors develop from cells that have many of the same characteristics as neural stem cells. However, these cells also have an abnormal ability to grow and change.
"We want to understand the transformation process from a normal stem cell to a cancer cell," said Houman Hemmati, the lead author and an MD/PhD student in the UCLA-Caltech Medical Scientist Training Program. "Recent work has shown that some cancers can arise from abnormal cells that are like stem cells in that they self-renew and produce the different kinds of cells that make up a tumor.
"This is a new way of thinking about the fundamental origins of cancer that promises to lead to better diagnostic tests and improved cancer-specific treatments in the future," said Hemmati.
"This study makes an important advance by demonstrating a previously unrecognized connection between stem cells and pediatric brain tumor-derived cells. By viewing tumors as a type of embryonic cell gone awry, this opens up new possibilities for diagnosis and treatment," said Marianne Bronner-Fraser, a developmental biologist and the Albert Billings Ruddock Professor of Biology at the California Institute of Technology.
"We believe that neural stem cells, found normally within our brain and spinal cords, could transform into cancer cells," said Harley Kornblum, a pediatric neurologist, member of UCLA's Jonsson Cancer Center and an associate professor of molecular and medical pharmacology and pediatrics at UCLA.
"This work also demonstrates that major advances can be made by combining different scientific perspectives -- tumor biology, stem cell and developmental biology. The joint UCLA/Caltech program fosters this important and cross-disciplinary discovery," said Bronner-Fraser.