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Stem cell enzyme may detect malignant tumors, provide treatment

By Tauren Dyson

Jan. 3 (UPI) -- A recently discovered stem cell enzyme could help doctors identify cancer cells that fly under the radar, a study says.

More than 20 types of tumors contain this stem cell enzyme, known as ADAR1, according to findings published Thursday in the journal Cancer Cell. The researchers say identifying this enzyme might be the key to ultimately stopping its influence on how cancer spreads.

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"We were able to illuminate the abilities of ADAR1 to 'hyper-mutate' tumor suppressor RNAs in leukemia and, at the same time, edit the microRNA aimed at targeting the tumor suppressor RNA. This enzyme turns on cancer resistance via a domino effect on RNA instead of DNA," first author Qingfei Jiang, assistant project scientist at University of California San Diego School of Medicine and study first author, said in a news release.

ADAR, or adenosine deaminase acting on RNA, encode a family of three enzymes that alter nucleotides inside of double-stranded RNA molecules, editing genes during new stem cell growth.

The enzyme can also get overtaken by pre-malignant cells that jump-start malignancy within cells, causing cancers like breast, liver and leukemia. It also generates dormant cancer stem cells and strengthens resistance to cancer treatment.

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And now that the researchers have identified ADAR, they hope further study can lead to the development of more therapies to pinpoint evasive cancer cells.

"One result of detection of malignant RNA editing could be exposing dormant cancer stem cells that often escape therapies that target dividing cells, which leads to therapeutic resistance and disease relapse, and also highlight ADAR as a potentially tractable target for cancer stem cell elimination," Jamieson said.

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