Breast cancer stem cells - the master blueprint cells that govern the deadly onset and continuation of breast cancer - are now in the cross-hairs of a new drug compound.
In a report published in the journal Cell
, U.S. researchers working out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology detailed their findings - saying that the new compound is designed to specifically hit the breast cancer stem cells, leaving the body's necessary stem cells alone and intact.
"There is a lot of evidence to suggest now that these cells are responsible for many of the recurrences that are observed after treatment has stopped," Piyush Gupta of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Broad Institute, told Reuters
The researchers findings are significant, as cancer stem cells are often difficult to identify - as they change rapidly into fully functioning cancer cells. In addition, they are difficult to kill.
The team successfully isolated the breast cancer stem cells, coaxing them to multiply in a lab. They then tested 16,000 chemical compounds on them - identifying 32 that effectively killed them.
"It wasn't clear it would be possible to find compounds that selectively kill cancer stem cells," Gupta said in a statement, according to Reuters. "That's what we did."
"A chemical called salinomycin hit the target. It was 100 times more potent at killing breast cancer stem cells than Bristol-Myers Squibb Co's cancer drug Taxol, or paclitaxel," Reuters reported. "Cancer stem cells treated with salinomycin were far less able to start breast cancers when injected into mice than cancer stem cells treated by paclitaxel. And the treatment also appeared to slow the growth of tumors in the mice."