The concept of cancer stem cells – faulty cells constantly fuelling tumours – is a hot topic in research. It’s thought that they produce the tumour 'bulk', that can be killed with drugs or radiotherapy, yet are resistant to treatment themselves. Although there’s good evidence that leukaemia [blood cancer] results from such stem cells, their existence in other cancers is more controversial. To help solve the argument, researchers are studying early-stage bowel tumours in mice carrying a gene named confetti. It makes a fluorescent protein that highlights each stem cell and its ‘offspring’, with a different colour (pictured). Individual tumours (outlined by white dashes) have grown from a single red, yellow or green-labelled cancer stem cell. This result suggests that, at least in bowel cancer, a single cancer stem cell fuels tumour growth. And it reinforces the importance of developing better therapies targeting these rogue cells.
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