Researchers in Italy have identified a pair of microRNA molecules that help maintain a population of cancerous stem cells that drive the growth of breast cancers and initiate tumor relapse after treatment. The study, which was published online on April 2, 2021 in the Journal of Cell Biology (JCB), reveals that targeting these microRNAs makes cancer stem cells more susceptible to some chemotherapies and could potentially improve the prognosis of patients with aggressive forms of breast cancer. The open-access article is titled “miR-146 Connects Stem Cell Identity with Metabolism and Pharmacological Resistance in Breast Cancer” (https://rupress.org/jcb/article/220/5/e202009053/211945/miR-146-connects-stem-cell-identity-with). Many tumors contain a small population of cancer stem cells that initiate tumor growth and give rise to the various cell types found in tumors. Moreover, because cancer stem cells are often resistant to radio- and chemo-therapies, they can survive and promote tumor relapse and metastasis after initial rounds of treatment. In breast cancer, for example, tumors containing a relatively high number of cancer stem cells have a much poorer prognosis than tumors with fewer stem cells. Eliminating these stem cells may therefore be crucial for the successful treatment of breast cancer and other tumor types. One class of molecule that might help cancer stem cells to persist within tumors is microRNAs. These short RNA molecules control the fate and identity of cells by regulating the levels of hundreds of longer, protein-encoding "messenger" RNAs.
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