“Rise in cancer cases due to chemical fertilisers. The incidence of cancer has increased in places where chemical fertilisers and pesticides have been used,” said physician-scientist Dr Bikul Das.
A group of Guwahati based researchers led by physician-scientist Bikul Das in collaboration with US team have found that cancer stem cells (CSCs) activate a stemness pathway, which may help cancer cells to escape from chemotherapy/radiotherapy.
This same stemness pathway was activated by embryonic stem cells exhibiting altruistic behaviour, with the current finding pointing to a possible role of biological altruism in cancer growth, a possibility that may open up a whole new dimension in cancer biology.
“This is largely attributed to the cancer stem cell ability to stay quiescent (low frequency), and then escape chemotherapy/radiation”: Das said.
Das further said many cancer types including leukemia (blood cancer) contain a rare fraction of CSCs capable of regenerating cancer, while the rest of the cancer cells are not endowed with the capacity to relapse. These CSCs are secured as immune cells and chemotherapy/radiation cannot destroy these cells, and more importantly, these CSCs have the unique ability to maintain a low but stable frequency among the millions of cancer cells, across generations.
The phenomena of CSC being rare goes against the dogma that cancer is largely a disease of Darwinian evolution, but may be explained in terms of biological altruism (group selection), Das added.
However, it has been challenging to find the molecular mechanisms of how CSCs retain a stable frequency across generations despite mutations/micro-environmental stress.