Researchers from Melbourne's Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Australia have discovered that breast stem cells and their 'daughters' have a much longer lifespan than previously thought, and are active in puberty and throughout life. The longevity of breast stem cells and their daughters means that they could harbor genetic defects or damage that can progress to cancer decades later, potentially shifting back the timeline of breast cancer development. The finding is also integral to identifying the 'cells of origin' of breast cancer and the ongoing quest to develop new treatments and diagnostics for breast cancer. Breast stem cells were isolated in 2006 by Professors Jane Visvader and Geoff Lindeman and their colleagues at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. Now, in a project led by Dr. Anne Rios and Dr. Nai Yang Fu that tracked normal breast stem cells and their development, the team has discovered that breast stem cells actively maintain breast tissue for most of the life of the individual and contribute to all major stages of breast development. The research was published online on January 26, 2014 in Nature. Professor Lindeman, who is also an oncologist at The Royal Melbourne Hospital, said discovering the long lifespan and programming of breast stem cells would have implications for identifying the cells of origin of breast cancers. Professor Visvader said understanding the hierarchy and development of breast cells was critical to identifying the cells that give rise to breast cancer, and to understanding how and why these cells become cancerous. "Without knowing the precise cell types in which breast cancer originates, we will continue to struggle in our efforts to develop new diagnostics and treatments for breast cancer, or developing preventive strategies," Professor Visvader said.
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