Adult lung stem cells, vital to injury repair, associated with poor cancer prognosis

Adult stem cells that are vital for airway repair in the lung but that persist in areas where pre-cancerous lesions are found are associated with a poor prognosis in patients who develop cancer, even those with early-stage disease, researchers at UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center have found.

These adult stem cells are found in areas repairing after injury and also are found in pre-cancerous areas, suggesting that they may mutate and become cancer-causing stem cells, making them a potential cell of origin for lung cancer and a possible target for prevention strategies and new targeted therapies.

The study found that when these adult stem cells are found in excised tumours, they are associated with a poor prognosis, and they could be used as markers to dictate the need for more aggressive treatment, said Jonsson Cancer Center researcher Brigitte Gomperts, an assistant professor of hematology-oncology and co-senior author of the study.

The presence of the adult stem cells in the tumours also was found to be associated with a higher likelihood that the cancer had spread to other organs.

"We can use the presence of these adult stems cells to identify patients with a high likelihood of relapse and risk of the cancer spreading, even in those where the tumor is small and can be entirely removed," said Gomperts, who also is a researcher with the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA.

The study appeared Aug. 15 in the peer-reviewed journal Cancer Research.