September 15, 2006

Intestinal stem cell research highlighted

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Robert Whitehead, M.Sc., Ph.D., left, listens to Sir Nicholas Wright, M.D., Ph.D., D.Sc., at last week’s symposium.
Photo by Susan Urmy

Intestinal stem cell research highlighted

Experts in gastrointestinal cancer and biology came together at Vanderbilt this week for a special GI Symposium honoring Robert Whitehead, M.Sc., Ph.D., research professor of Medicine and Cancer Biology, and to brainstorm and share their research relating to intestinal stem cells.

Whitehead joined colleagues from noted universities, including the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, the University of North Carolina, Warden of Barts and the London School of Medicine, Seconda Universita di Napoli in Italy, Jefferson Medical College and several Vanderbilt experts in the Wyatt Center at Peabody College to talk about intestinal stem cells and cancer biology.

Whitehead said the colon goes through a normal process of shedding cells that make up its inner lining, but experts don't yet know how this process occurs.

“We know nothing about how the normal cells grow and are replaced, and until we can understand that, we're not going to understand the development of cancer and the mechanism by which stem cells are controlled,” he said.

Sir Nicholas Wright, M.D., Ph.D., D.Sc., from the Warden of Barts and the London School of Medicine, who spoke on gastrointestinal stem cells, said the symposium gave the leading experts in GI cancers a chance to present new data and look to the future.

“We are thinking of what the next problem is and what we need to do. Cancer is a disease of stem cells. Whether it's lung cancer, brain cancer or colon cancer, the cells that become malignant are stem cells,” he said. “Ultimately it is so important to know how these cells behave normally and how they become cancerous, and when they become cancerous, how they behave. This is the direction cancer research is going in the next 20-30 years,” Wright added.