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Almost all modern treatments for cancer face one major problem – recurrent disease. Even when tumor seems to be completely removed, there are high chances that in several years the disease will simply come back, usually in a more aggressive form. It is hypothesized that this phenomenon is linked to variability in cancer cells.
Some of them are more resistant to treatments and can successfully survive in the body, thus giving rise to new islands of cancer later on. Also, many scientists believe that many of these resistant cells belong to a special population of so-called cancer stem cells that survive the treatment simply because they differ significantly from the cells of tumor. These cells, at later stage, can convert into cancer cells again.
Functional and phenotypic heterogeneity occur in a tumor's cancer cells due to environmental differences, genetic chance and various reversible changes taking place in the cancer cell population. It is not known which clinical behaviors are explained by the stem-cell model and which cancers follow this model. There are studies done on deep sequencing and lineage tracing that could provide information about the cancer stem cells and how they accounts for disease progression and therapy resistance.
They also hope to find a way to slow down the progression of cancer so that patients to not experience metastasis.
What is Cell Plasticity?
Plasticity is the ability of stem cells and certain other cells to take on the characteristics of other cells. For example, when the stem cells from the bone marrow are transplanted into the lungs, they can become lung cells. Scientists think that they may be able to stimulate stem cells to repair tissues that are diseased in the lungs, heart and other vital organs. This type of treatment is still in the very early stages of development and it is referred to as stem cell therapy. While it will take years before this approach is put into clinical practice, the hopes are high that this new method may help to create treatments for cancer and other serious diseases.
Embryos have a high number of stem cells, as cell plasticity is necessary for a fetus to grow and develop. Human embryonic stem cells were first grown in the laboratory in 1998.
What is Heterogeneity?
In medicine and genetics, the term heterogeneity refers to variations in phenotypes. The phenotype of an organism is its physical appearance. For example, things like eye color, hair color and height are all phenotypic features. However, it also describes things like disease history and overall health, both of which go down to the cellular level and this is where heterogeneity becomes linked to phenotypes. If you have a gene that is mutated, this could also be part of the phenotype because it can result in a disease that affects overall health and disease history.
Genotype refers to a person's heritable genetic identity, the set of genes. Through personal genome sequencing, personalized genomic information can be obtained. In some cases, the term genotype also refers to an individual's set of genes or a mutation that increases the risk of disease, such as diabetes or heart disease.