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Many Cancers Express Embryonic Stem Cell Genes

Activation of embryonic genes in normal cells can lead to cancer

THURSDAY, April 10 (HealthDay News) -- Many cancers express genes normally expressed in embryonic stem cells, and activation of these genes in normal cells can cause them to become cancerous, according to research published in the April 10 issue of Cell Stem Cell.

David J. Wong, M.D., Ph.D., from Stanford University in Stanford, Calif., and colleagues constructed a "gene module map" to identify expression of groups of shared genes in embryonic stem cells, adult tissue stem cells and human cancers.

The investigators found two predominant gene modules in adult tissue stem cells, one of which shared a core with embryonic stem cells. The embryonic stem cell-like transcriptional program was frequently activated in diverse human epithelial cancers, strongly predicted metastasis and death, and could be uniquely activated by the c-Myc oncogene in normal and cancer cells. The researchers report that c-Myc increased the fraction of tumor-initiating cells in a cell-autonomous manner that was independent of genomic instability.

"Thus, activation of an embryonic stem cell-like transcriptional program in differentiated adult cells may induce pathologic self-renewal characteristic of cancer stem cells," Wong and colleagues conclude.

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