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Nov 04, 2010
 |  BC Innovations  |  Targets & Mechanisms

Stemming ovarian cancer

A Boston team has identified ovarian cancer stem cells that may be responsible for the disease's high relapse rate.1 The group also discovered that a naturally occurring hormone called anti-Mullerian hormone

can wipe out the stem cells, but recombinant production of it could prove challenging.

In recent years, oncologists have identified cancer stem cell markers in a number of solid tumors, but the precise identity of ovarian cancer stem cells has been a point of contention.

Now, a Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) team led by Patricia

Donahoe has identified a fraction of ovarian cancer cells with the molecular hallmarks of ovarian cancer stem cells.

Donahoe is professor of surgery and director of the pediatric surgical research laboratory at MGH.

The suspected cells are resistant to conventional chemotherapy but are highly sensitive to anti-Mullerian hormone (AMH). AMH suppresses growth of the female reproductive system during male embryonic development.

According to Donahoe, AMH works by arresting ovarian cancer stem cells during cell division, which eventually leads to apoptosis. She thus suspects that AMH could be used to prevent the recurrence of ovarian tumors.

AMH "is a natural substance found in the fetus that causes regression of the female reproductive organs," said Donahoe. "Our initial hypothesis many years ago was that if this agent caused regression of a whole organ system, it could also regress tumors derived from that organ system."

But until now, difficulties in making recombinant AMH and in identifying ovarian cancer stem cells have thwarted Donahoe's efforts to test her hypothesis.

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