GUWAHATI, July 7 - In a major breakthrough that would impact the course of research to find a cure for cancer, physician-scientist Dr Bikul Das and his research team at Kavi Krishna Laboratory has found that cancer stem cells activate a stemness pathway that may help cancer to escape from chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
The findings of the study have been published online by the journal Cancer Research, published by the American Association for Cancer Research recently.
Addressing the media here today, Dr Das stated that the current finding points at a possible role of biological altruism in cancer growth, a possibility that may open up a whole new dimension in cancer biology.
Cancer cases are rapidly increasing in India, especially in the northeastern region of the country. However, treatment against cancer is not yet successful. This is largely attributed to the cancer stem cells' ability to stay quiescent and then escape from the chemotherapy radiation.
It is noteworthy that earlier research by Dr Das revealed that some human embryonic stem cells activate a molecular signalling pathway, the HIF-2alpha stemness pathway, to reprogramme themselves to exhibit altruism, i.e. sacrificing self-fitness for the sake of group fitness. Hence, Dr Das suspected that Cancer Stem Cells (CSC) may hijack the same HIF-2alpha stemness pathway to maintain a stable frequency across the generations.
“From our previous research, we learned that HIF-2alpha pathway maintains the stemness of altruistic stem cells obtained from embryonic stem cells. So, we hypothesised that like altruistic stem cells, CSCs may also have figured out the advantage of using the HIF-2alpha stemness pathway,” he stated.
Dr Das and his team also found that lymphoma stem cells hijack the altruistic stemness pathway of embryonic stem cells to maintain their rare identity among millions of non-stem cancer cells. Significantly, this new study is helping to shed light on the mechanism that endows the cancer stem cells to maintain a low but stable frequency across generations.
However, the team of researchers sees the research results through a different angle that may in future re-define the way of understanding cancer growth. In this connection, Dr Das stated that biological altruism may have a role in CSC maintenance and in cancer growth.