Colour catches cancer spreading

US researchers have cleverly tracked cancer mutations by causing stem cells to glow. 

This allowed the team from Duke Cancer Institute to observe how mutations quietly arise and spread through the colon until they eventually predominate and become a malignancy.

“This study provides new insight into the previously invisible process…,” says Joshua Snyder, co-senior author of a paper published in the journal Nature Communications.

Using their molecular dyeing technique, Snyder and colleagues tagged several common colon cancer mutations in the stem cells of a single tumour to create a fluorescent barcode.

When transferred to a mouse, the fluorescent stem cells could be easily tracked.

In this way, the researchers found key differences in how the intestinal habitats common to babies and adults grow pre-cancerous fields of mutant cells. 

They also observed that some colon cancer mutations found in patients can lead to a striking increase in the fertility of the environment surrounding precancerous fields. 

Snyder says the fluorescent barcoding approach also is being used to view the cancer fields in breast cancer.

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