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ADVANCE Discourse: Lab

Reprogrammed Cells and Radiation

Published December 29, 2014 5:34 PM by Michael Jones

It’s no big secret that being exposed to radiation can cause cancer. As humans, we rely on  radioactigve materials and manufacture technologies to harness that power for our benefit, but that doesn’t keep accidents from happening. According to an article from Newswise, a recent study published in Stem Cells not only examined the effects of radiation on stem cells, but also hypothesized on how to “reprogram” the cells to prevent potentially negative repercussions like the development of cancer.

“It’s about evolution driven by natural selection,” said James DeGregori, PhD, investigator and molecular genetics professor at the University of Colorado Cancer Center and School of Medicine respectively, as well as senior author of the study. “In a healthy blood system, healthy stem cells out-compete stem cells that happen to have the C/EBPA mutation. But when radiation reduces the health and robustness (what we call ‘fitness’) of the stem cell population, the mutated cells that have been there all along are suddenly given the opportunity to take over.”

The C/EBPA mutation mentioned in DeGregori’s quote refers to potentially life-threatening result of radiation exposure. According to the article, radiation put hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) at risk of differentiating unless a mutation in the C/EBPA gene was present, allowing them to remain stem cells while the other MSCs would die off. With no competition from the unhealthy HSCs damaged by radiation, the C/EBPA cells would multiply rapidly causing cancer. Despite this risk, DeGregori went on to explain that “an infusion of healthy HSCs after radiation exposure would likely allow the healthy blood system to out-compete the radiation-exposed HSC with their ‘programmed mediocrity’ (increased differentiation) and even HSC with cancer-causing mutations,” essentially allowing the body recalibrate its levels of healthy HSCs to prevent the spread of the cancer.   

“If I were working in a situation in which I was likely to experience full-body radiation, I would freeze a bunch of my HSCs,” continued DeGregori in the Newswise story. “But there’s also hope that in the future, we could offer drugs that would restore the fitness of stem cells left over after radiation.”

The battle against cancer has seen a lot of progress as clinical scientists and researchers have uncovered the many impacts of molecular diagnostics. In the case of leukemias and other blood cancers, however, the possibility of reprogramming cells to prevent the spread of cancerous cells stands as an important step in fighting the disease.

posted by Michael Jones

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