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Stem cells and cancer: Cancer pathways that also control the adult stem cell population

10 April 2008

Speaking today (10 April) at the UK National Stem Cell Network Annual Science Meeting in Edinburgh, Professor Alan Clarke from Cardiff University describes his work to investigate a mechanism that normally drives adult stem cells to repair the intestine. Together with his colleague Owen Sansom from the University of Glasgow, he has found that if things go wrong and a crucial gene called Apc is lost or damaged, then this normal function of controlling the adult stem cell population breaks down and ultimately leads to a tumour. This research is funded by the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Cancer Research UK.

Professor Clarke, Cardiff School of Biosciences said: “If we are to use adult stem cells for therapy then we must understand how they behave normally and what sometimes triggers them to go wrong and potentially cause cancer. Otherwise we may never be able to fully exploit their potential, or do so safely. That is why we have chosen to research intestinal repair as an example of how adult stem cells work and what happens when the pathways that control them go wrong.”

The team from Cardiff University has used genetic technology to manipulate intestinal stem cells and mimic the process by which a part of the intestine called the crypts is regenerated following high levels of DNA damage or injury. By doing this, they have found that a mechanism called Wnt signalling drives this process and is necessary to send stem cells down the route to become replacement cells in the damaged part of the intestine. Under normal circumstances Wnt signalling is turned down once the stem cells have done their job. If this does not happen, then more and more cells are added to the crypt and ultimately a tumour forms.

Professor Clarke added: “It has been known for some time that loss of or damage to Apc within the intestinal crypt cells can lead to cancer, but what hasn’t been clear is what it actually does. Our work shows that Apc has a role in switching off Wnt signalling, controlling the adult stem cell population and preventing the formation of tumours.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

This research is being presented at the UK National Stem Cell Network Inaugural Science Meeting at the Edinburgh Conference Centre on 10 April 2008.

The conference is a showcase of the best and latest UK stem cell science across all stem cell disciplines.

The UK National Stem Cell Network acts as a network of the existing regional stem cell networks in the UK, to bring coordination and coherence to a range of national and regional activities in the field of stem cell research.

The UKNSCN secretariat receives financial support from four of the UK Research Councils:

  • Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
  • Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
  • Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
  • Medical Research Council (MRC)

The Network represents the UK stem cell research community and is run through an independent Steering Committee. Initially, the secretariat is operated by BBSRC on behalf of all the Government sponsors of stem cell research, including the Research Councils, the Department of Health and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills.

About BBSRC

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £380 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk

About Cancer Research UK

  • Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to beat cancer.
  • Cancer Research UK carries out world-class research to improve understanding of the disease and find out how to prevent, diagnose and treat different kinds of cancer.
  • Cancer Research UK ensures that its findings are used to improve the lives of all cancer patients.
  • Cancer Research UK helps people to understand cancer, the progress that is being made and the choices each person can make.
  • Cancer Research UK works in partnership with others to achieve the greatest impact in the global fight against cancer.

For further information about Cancer Research UK's work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 020 7009 8820 or visit http://www.cancerresearchuk.org.

About Cardiff University

Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities. It is also ranked as one of the world’s top 100 universities by the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES).

2008 marks the 125th anniversary of Cardiff University having been founded by Royal Charter in 1883. Today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University’s breadth of expertise in research and research-led teaching encompasses: the humanities; the natural, physical, health, life and social sciences; engineering and technology; preparation for a wide range of professions; and a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning.

Cardiff is a member of the Russell Group of the UK’s leading research universities.
Visit the University website at: http://www.cardiff.ac.uk.

Watch or download a video of Professor Clarke discussing the significance of the research of Professor Sir Martin Evans following the announcement of his Nobel Prize.

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