The Cross-Border Biotech Blog

Biotechnology, Health and Business in Canada, the United States and Worldwide

Friday Science Review: June 22, 2012

The Dick lab at the Campbell Family Institute of the Ontario Cancer Institute has been instrumental in the field of cancer stem cells.  The central tenet of the cancer stem cell hypothesis is that there is a small population of cells within a tumour that are able to self-renew and also differentiate into the full range of cell types found within that tumour. In addition to their role at the head of the tumour cell hierarchy, these cancer stem cells (also known as cancer initiating cells, or tumour initiating cells) have increased resistance to chemotherapeutics, leading to an unfortunate ability to cause both relapse and metastasis.

In their Cancer Cell paper, the Dick lab and collaborators investigated the genes that are involved in controlling this combination of abilities. They determined that the proteins ID1 and ID3 were responsible for controlling the self-renewal of colon cancer stem cells. ID1 and ID3 are members of the DNA-binding protein inhibitor family of proteins that heterodimerize with basic helix-loop-helix transcription factors to prevent their ability to bind DNA. ID1 and ID3 appeared to be exerting their effect by increasing levels of p21, a cell-cycle inhibitor and regulator of self-renewal. p21 itself has previously been linked to protecting cancer cells from stress and DNA damage and it was also found that knocking down ID1 and ID3 led to increased sensitivity to oxaliplatin, thereby linking the phenomenon of increased resistance to chemotherapy and self-renewal.

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