Adult Cells Steal Trick from Cancer to Become Stem Cell-Like

From Scientific American:

Cell In a boon to cancer treatment and regenerative medicine, scientists have discovered that a trick used by tumor cells that allows them to migrate around the body can cause normal, adult cells to revert into stem cell–like cells.

Large quantities of these reverted cells could be used to treat anything from spinal cord injury to liver damage without the risk of tissue rejection, said Robert Weinberg, a biologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and co-author of a study appearing in Cell. Learning more about how cancer cells move around the body is also providing scientists with new insights that could thwart the spread of the disease.

The key to the process is a better understanding of developmental changes in the body’s two primary cell types: epithelial cells (those that constitute the skin and most internal organs) and mesenchymal cells (which make up connective tissue). The key difference between the two cell categories is that epithelial cells adhere very tightly to one another, making sheetlike layers, whereas mesenchymal cells are only loosely bound and can migrate within the body. In the developing embryo, an initial group of epithelial cells undergoes a shift called an “epithelial to mesenchymal transition” (EMT) to form bones, blood and cartilage as well as the heart.

More here.