Wang identifies stem cells in gastric cancer - a new theory of cancer

Wang identifies stem cells in gastric cancer - a new theory of cancer

Mutations in stem cells originating in the bone marrow give rise to gastric cancer, according to Professor Timothy Wang of the University of British Columbia Medical School, Canada back in 2004; these stem cells are self-renewing and tumour-regenerating; they can even block anti-cancer drugs.

Stems cells are "parent" cells, some people even call them 'blank cells'; they are the first cells in the foetus, and differentiate to become any and all of the 200 or more different types of cell in the body. From eyes to toes and from liver cells to nerves to skin.

Genetic changes in these stem cells prevent their differentiation

Stem cells are with us throughout our lives. They are our repair cells and are produced in the bone marrow and used to form new cells in the skin, liver or muscle, wherever injury and damage occurs.

Professor Timothy Wang and his team at Columbia University reported in Science (Nov 2004) that genetic changes in these stem cells prevent their differentiation. So they remain fast growing 'neutral' cells that do not die, and it is these cells that can develop into cancer stem cells that exist at the heart of all solid tumours.

When studying stomach cancer, Wang discovered that the actual problem was not gastric stem cells lining the stomach, but bone marrow stem cells, which normally circulate freely around the body ready to deal with inflammation and injury. He believes this finding would mean the orthodox textbooks on the causes of cancer would need re-writing.

Interestingly, in studies with mice, the bone marrow cells were attracted to a location suffering from inflammation (Ed: See Volume 4, Issue 1’s Hot Gossip). It is known in Gastric cancer that inflammation to the stomach lining and wall can be caused by the bacterium and parasite, Helicobacter pylori for example. Such irritation and inflammation leads to the need for repair. Wang's observation was that bone marrow stem cells were sent to repair the damage but were incapable of differentiating into new stomach wall cells because they were mutated, or blocked.

Much work has been done since 2004, proving Wang correct in his theory. Gastric cancer is more common in Japan. For example, a 2018 study (1) from Kumamoto University starts by saying, "Gastric cancer (GC) is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide. GC stem-like cells (GCSCs) with unlimited self-renewal and tumour-regenerating capacities, contribute significantly to the refractory features of GC and have gained increasing attention for their role in GC drug resistance, relapse and metastasis. Therapies targeting GCSCs seem to be one of the most promising methods to improve outcomes."

Does oestrogen play a role in cancer stem cells?

Many studies have shown that cancer stem cells play a crucial role in tumour initiation, progression, metastasis and recurrence. Several studies have shown that female hormones can play a role in the proliferation, differentiation and metastasis of cancer stem cells. For example, a 2014 study by researchers from China showed that oestrogen could drive certain tumours and regulate cancer stem cells through cellular receptor sites, and that there is cross-talk between the receptors and the microenvironment of the tumour, which supported self-renewal and provided a physical barrier to drug attack.

Go to: Natural Compounds that attack cancer stem cells


1. Yonsei Med J; 2018, Dec 1 59(10); 1150-58; Yan Fu et al.

2. Ye J, Wu D, Wu P, Chen Z, Huang J. The cancer stem cell niche: cross talk between cancer stem cells and their microenvironmentTumour Biol. (2014) 35:3945–51. 10.1007/s13277-013-1561-x

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