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PTEN, stem cells, and cancer

  • Researcher: Professor Alan Clarke
  • Institution: Cardiff University
  • Award Amount: £228,353 for 3 years from January 2013
  • Cancer Type: Bowel Cancer
PTEN, stem cells, and cancer

Pathways of molecules carrying signals between the inside and outside of a cell, or across different parts of a cell, are essential to keep cells alive, healthy and under control. Not surprisingly, many signaling pathways go wrong in cancer. One pathway, the PI3 kinase pathway, has been implicated in the growth of many different cancers, including bowel cancer. When the PI3 kinase pathways goes wrong in cancer, it is often because of the deletion or mutation of one of its components, a protein called PTEN. It has always been assumed that the alterations in PTEN that trigger cancer happen directly in the cells that become cancerous. However, Professor Clarke and his team have shown recently that, at least in bowel cancer, the PTEN mutations that set cancer off can happen in the surrounding cells (stromal cells) and not in the cancer cells themselves. They think this happens because the mutated stromal cells disrupt the cells around them, including the stem cells that are probably responsible for forming bowel tumours. They will use their Worldwide Cancer Research grant to study exactly how the deletion of PTEN from stromal cells can cause other cells in the bowel to become cancerous. They believe that this knowledge could completely change our understanding of how the PI3 kinase pathway is involved in cancer and how we can use this to better diagnose disease, as well as hopefully treat it.

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