The group, based at Washington University School of Medicine, says some cancer cells in glioblastomas - a deadly form of brain cancer - are more resistant to treatment than others.
“These tumour stem cells are really the kingpins of cancers - the cells that direct and drive much of the harm done by tumors,” Dr. Albert Kim says on the school's site.
The team says it identified a protein (SOX2) that is active in brain tumour stem cells, and found that its ability to make SOX2 could be turned up or down via another protein (CDC20).
They discovered that eliminating CDC20 left tumour stem cells unable to make SOX2, reducing the stem cells’ ability to form tumours.
"The rate of growth in some tumours lacking CDC20 dropped by 95% compared with tumours with more typical levels of CDC20," Kim said.
The findings were published online in Cell Reports.
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