Colon cancer is a leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide as it is sadly very resistant to treatment. But now scientists have discovered a biological mechanism that may counteract this
When a colon cancer patient receives treatment, such as chemotherapy, the majority of the cancer cells are killed off (Read this
Gut Cleanse). But genetic mutations that were the primary cause of cancer can survive in a specific group of colon cells that actually stems cells. Once treatment has ended, surviving stem cells, still harboring the cancerous mutations, can reappear and cause a relapse.
Joerg Huelsken’s research team at EPFL focused on a protein called HOXA5 that regulates the body’s stem cells to maintain both the identity and function of different tissues.
As with all proteins, HOXA5 originates from a specific gene. The researchers found that the cancerous stem cells of the colon use a biological mechanism to block it resulting in the uncontrolled growth and spread of cancerous stem cells which ultimately leads to relapse.
The answer to the problem for the researchers lay within the chemical structure of vitamin A – a retinoid known to cause change (differentiation) in stem cells. Retinoids are able to re-activate protein HOXA5. By switching the gene for HOXA5 back on, this treatment eliminated cancer stem cells and prevented metastasis in live animals and in samples from actual patients.
Retinoid differentiation therapy could prove to be a very effective treatment against colon cancer, not only for managing existing disease but also as a preventive measure in high-risk patients.