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March 07, 2018 Wednesday 11:11:13 AM IST

Researchers at The University of Texas at Dallas have developed a new technique to isolate aggressive cells thought to form the root of many hard-to-treat metastasiz0ed cancers. “Our lab is interested in finding ways to prevent cancer recurrence,” said Dr. Jiyong Lee, Assistant Professor at the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at UT Dallas. “The problem is, not all cancer cells are equal. There is a small population of cancer cells that is much more aggressive than others — cancer stem cells,” Lee said. These lead to secondary tumours, even after the primary tumour has been successfully treated. The cells are extremely difficult to detect and eliminate. Lee and his colleagues used a two-step method to plough through an archive of 40,000 chemical compounds and find any that would attach themselves to breast-cancer stem cells, in turn, isolating them from standard breast-cancer cells. The screening led to five compounds, called ligands, that bind specifically to cancer stem cells. The researchers then chose one for closer study. Lee said the results showcase the first demonstration of a method that separates cancer stem cells from other cancer cells.