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Science Brief: Liver cancers embedded with super cancer stem cells are resistant to chemotherapy

Researchers find rogue stem cells in liver cancer

Embedded cancer stem cells have a unique surface protein called CD24 with high counts of CD24 thus … patients tend to have poorer chances of survival.

  • Liver cancer stem cells are troublesome because they are responsible for growing tumors, making them spread, drug-resistant and so hardy that they recur even after they have been surgically removed.

Human liver cancer patients found with high concentrations of CD24 had a 67% chance of cancer recurrence in the 1st year after surgery, compared to a 21% recurrence in those with low CD24 count.

  • Those with high CD24 count had an 80% chance of their cancer spreading to other body parts, compared to 32% chance of spreading in patients with low D24 count.

The Bottom Line: The discovery, published in the journal, Cell Stem Cell, is important because it means these stem cells can be targeted in their fight against liver cancer, a major blight in China and southeast Asia. 10% of China’s population carry the hepatitis B virus, a key cause of liver cancer. There are 500K new cases of liver cancer worldwide a year, over 50% in China. CD24 is like a button, a switch on some cancer stem cells. Once they are switched on, they activate a protein in the cell called STAT3. In this experiment, researchers (Irene Ng, pathology professor and director of the State Key Laboratory for Liver Research at the University of Hong Kong) found that mice that were implanted with liver cancer enriched with CD24 cancer stem cells were resistant to chemotherapy. They then injected 2 colonies of liver cancer cells – 1 with CD24 stem cells and the other without – into separate parts of the liver of the same mouse. That part of the liver with CD24 cancer stem cells grew cancer and the cancer spread to the lungs. But not the other parts of the liver without CD24 cancer stem cells. STAT3 goes into the nucleus of the cells and carries out its functions, which are to form tumors, spread and be drug resistant. When researchers inhibited the function of STAT3, they block the function of cancer stem cells.