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From a Single Cell

Posted 2/2/2016

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  Every now and then I feel the urge to share a geeky article. Science, probably sadly, has never been my strong suit. I fear that I am completely a product of my era, and that meant that girls were not expected to be interested in math or science. Periodically I think it would be fun (?) to take an online algebra class and see if it makes any more sense than it did when I was 14. I have always hesitated, because it would be pretty depressing if I still struggled. Some years ago, a journalist friend took the SATs as part of a story he was writing about pressures on high school kids around college entrance. To his shock, he did almost exactly the same as he had 40 years earlier. As I write this, I wonder if that actually is good news and could mean that the test truly does measure aptitude.

  Anyhow, that is all a meandering introduction to this interesting article from The New York Times about the very beginnings of cancer. As we know, nature built in many back ups and second/third chances, so it really takes a perfect storm for a healthy cell to become malignant. Sadly, it happens.

  Here is the start and a link. Even if you share my non-science heritage, this is interesting. I promise.

A Single Cell Shines New Light on How Cancers Develop

It was just a tiny speck, a single cell that researchers had marked with a fluorescent green dye. But it was the very first cell of what would grow to be a melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Never before had researchers captured a cancer so early.
The cell was not a cancer yet. But its state was surprising: It was a cell that had reverted to an embryonic form, when it could have developed into any cell type. As it began to divide, cancer genes took over and the single primitive cell barreled forward into a massive tumor.
Those were the findings of Dr. Leonard Zon of Boston Children’s Hospital, Dr. Charles K. Kaufman, and their
colleagues, in a study published Thursday in the journal Science that offers new insight into how cancers may develop.
The researchers stumbled on that first cell of a melanoma when they set out to solve a puzzle that has baffled cancer investigators: Why do many cells that have cancer genes never turn cancerous?
The work was in fish that had been given human genes, but the investigators found the same genetic programs in human melanomas, indicating that they too started when a cell reverted back to an embryonic state. More study is needed, but researchers say the result can help them understand why melanomas and possibly other cancers form, and potentially prevent them. And it may provide a way to stop melanomas from growing back after they have been cut down by new targeted drugs.

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