NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 16, 2008

A group of researchers led by Dr. Sanford Barsky of Ohio State University College of Medicine in Columbus has found evidence to support the increasingly popular idea that many, if not all, cancers are caused by stem cells gone bad.

For example:

  • In healthy organs, the stem cells divide only when needed -- usually in response to an injury, or when other stem cells have died.
  • Some cancer scientist think that stem cells can lose this control function and thus divide endlessly, creating tumors.

Dr. Barsky reasoned that if the stem-cell hypothesis is true, the stem cells from a donor organ may cause cancer somewhere else in a transplant recipient's body.  By tracking the long-term health of organ-transplant patients in registries, Dr. Barsky found transplant-derived cancers in abundance:

  • In 12 percent of cases, the sex of the tumor matched the donor, rather than the recipient.
  • One woman developed skin cancer nine months after receiving a bone-marrow transplant from a man; the tumor cells had a Y chromosome, indicating that the cancer came from the donated bone marrow.
  • In another case, a man developed colon cancer 10 years after receiving a kidney transplant from a female donor; the colon cancer cells lacked a Y chromosome.

Dr. Barsky believes the new data support the idea that tumors arise from stem cells that have gone wrong.  Transplant registries may have just shed light on a fundamental question in cancer biology, says the Economist. 

Source: "On the Move," The Economist, June 7- June 13, 2008.

For text:


Browse more articles on Health Issues