Scientists have identified a key protein that connects the cancer stem cells to the growing nerves and can be targeted to protect against patients many common and aggressive cancers.

The institutes findings could pave the way for more effective treatments to help patients get better longer and more disabling therapies for cancer such as brain cancer and leukemia.

Cancer stem cells which thrive in the nervous system have traditionally been considered a vulnerable and dirty group wanting to rewire the cells so-called cellular clock to enable cells to resist chemotherapy or radiation treatment. But work at the NCATS-funded Janssen Research Technology Center (JRC) has identified a protein critical for maintaining sickness and ensuring cancer stem cells are not allowed to do such a shift known as integrin 5b.

The researchers sought to understand how the protein works and how its presence in cancer stem cells impacts their ability to develop into tumors.

Dr. Dautoslav Lychevskiy from the JRC said: Current cancer treatment is targeted to these trials but not very long patients. Central nervous system diseases such as schizophrenia are also capable of arising from conversion of cancer stem cells into cancer cells.

Cancer stem cells have evolved to adapt to their tumor environment during treatment and the inability to reverse this adaptation by targeting the cancer stem cells is a big problem for oncologists.

Every cell in the human body contains five billion cancer-induced stem cells which have the capacity to self-renew and differentiate into up to 20 different types of cancer cells. Most cancer stem cells remain dormant after the cancer has passed through the primary tumor dismissing frees up once these cancer cells resume their normal function.

However many of these stem cells are aggressive and can out-compete other cells in a given tumor. Prior work has identified proteins such as integrin 5b as a way to keep cancer stem cells in check by restricting their ability to divide and proliferate.

The JRC team succeeded in studying integrin 5b in five common and aggressive brain cancer (Schwannoma melanoma) models being developed by JRC scientists around the world.

They found that only within individual tumors integrin 5b played a key role in keeping tumor cells alive with nearly all genes ending up expressed and regulators of integrin 5b functioning.

Professor Linssen Henry Rodbeck Director of the British Lung Institute (BLI) at the University of Manchester said: The discovery of integrin 5b is a source of great scientific interest. We hope it will now turn this small aspect of signaling into something important for cancers and stem cells within which cancer stem cells will no longer be in a position to play a major role.

Senior author Professor Peter Haging from the University of Leeds said: This is a section of the blood of patients with Schizophrenia that starts to get rapidly spread around the brain.

Dr. Henry Rodbeck and his team have been working on the Schizophrenia Stem Cell Bloodline since it was announced by the charity Neuroscientist around 2008. This has driven us to do this in the UK.