However, research published in PLoS Computational Biology has recently demonstrated that although aging can occur suddenly in melanoma cells, it does not halt their growth, which is fueled by a small population of cancer stem cells. The study examined the connection between melanoma and cell aging. All cells undergo the process of decline and eventually stop duplicating once they reach maturity.
The researchers followed the long-term changes in melanoma cell populations by closely observing the number of aging cells. They found that mature cells slowed their growth, with the majority undergoing the process after three months. However, the growth did not stop and eventually continued at its initial rate until the aging cells had nearly died off.
The researchers then applied a mathematical model of the experimental data using a hypothesis involving the presence of stem cells. The idea behind this model is that a sub-group of cancer cells multiply continuously, and are therefore unaffected by aging. These cancer stem cells are capable of producing larger populations of cancer cells, which are then able to replicate a certain number of times. The results of the model suggest that cancer stem cells are present in melanoma, a proposition that remains controversial amongst the cancer research community.
The researchers conclude that despite a large percentage of cancer cells being vulnerable to aging, trying to replicate the process would likely be ineffective for treatment as these cells are not critical for tumor growth. They do say, however, that the indirect evidence of cancer stem cells in melanoma could spark the creation of new strategies for the treatment of certain cancer types.
However, the fact remains that cancer stem cells have a strong resistance to drug induced aging and this continues to pose a serious challenge. Based on the results of this research, ideal treatment of tumors would isolate these cancer stem cells, instead of trying to address every single cancerous cell.