Stem cell test to help treat bowel cancer

LONDON Tue Aug 19, 2008 8:18pm EDT

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LONDON (Reuters) - Stem cell scientists have developed a new and more accurate way of spotting aggressive forms of bowel cancer, allowing for tailored treatment that should improve patients' chances of survival.

British researchers said on Wednesday those with the most aggressive kind of cancer could be identified early by testing for a stem cell marker protein called Lamin A.

The team concluded that patients testing positive for Lamin A should be given chemotherapy, in addition to surgery, to increase their chances of survival.

The discovery is the latest example of new tests being developed that can help doctors decide how and when to treat different manifestations of cancer.

In the two earliest of the four key stages of bowel cancer, patients normally have an operation to remove their tumor but are rarely given chemotherapy, since the toxic treatment can cause more harm than good.

The new research, however, suggests that around one third of these early-stage patients will have the Lamin A stem cell marker, indicating a more serious form of disease, and they are likely to benefit from chemotherapy.

"Chemotherapy can be very useful but can have a number of side effects, so we only want to use it where we think there's a good chance it will help. This test will help us determine that," said Robert Wilson, a bowel cancer specialist at The James Cook University Hospital, Middlesbrough.

The team from Durham University and the North East England Stem Cell Institute now aims to develop a robust prognostic tool that eventually can be used widely in hospitals.

Their research was published in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One and is available online here

(Reporting by Ben Hirschler; editing by Robert Hart)

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