Scientists at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center in the US have identified a new ‘indirect’ route that could provide a means of targeting dangerous breast cancer stem cells.

Researchers found that breast cancer stem cells are regulated by a type of cell derived from bone marrow, called mesenchymal stem cells, which provide a niche in which these cancerous cells are harboured and replicated.

By developing new drugs to target this niche, scientists hope to successfully target these cells, which are believed to be resistant to current chemotherapies and radiation treatment.

Max Wicha MD, director of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center and study author, said that the importance of this is that it may be possible to attack breast cancer stem cells indirectly, by blocking signals from the niche.

Little is known about the cancer stem cell niche other than that it is highly associated with tumour growth and metastasis. It may be the reason that cancer often returns after treatment.