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Is the Secret to Curing Cancer Living in Our Intestines?

Update Date: Jul 31, 2013 03:09 PM EDT

The secret to curing cancer may be living in our intestines, a new study suggests.

Experts explain that a patient's chances of survival increase exponentially when a their gastrointestinal tract remains healthy and functioning.

In a new study, published in the journal Nature, researchers were able to find a biological mechanism that preserves the gastrointestinal tracts in mice given lethal doses of chemotherapy.

Lead researcher Jian-Guo Geng, associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry, said that the findings could revolutionize cancer therapy. 

"All tumors from different tissues and organs can be killed by high doses of chemotherapy and radiation, but the current challenge for treating the later-staged metastasized cancer is that you actually kill the host before you kill the tumor," he explained.

"It's our belief that this could eventually cure later-staged metastasized cancer. People will not die from cancer, if our prediction is true," said Geng.

"We cannot know this yet, but in mice it has shown promise. Years down the road, we may have a way to make humans tolerate lethal doses of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. In this way, the later-staged, metastasized cancer can be eradicated by increased doses of chemotherapy and radiation," he added.

The findings revealed that intestinal stem cells go into overdrive for intestinal regeneration and repair when certain proteins bind with specific molecules on intestinal stem cells. The molecules studied in the experiment were called R-spondin1 and Slit2. Researchers said these molecules help repair tissue in combination with intestinal stem cells residing in the adult intestine.

Researchers explained that stem cells naturally heal damaged organs and tissues.  However, so-called "normal" amounts of stem cells in the intestine cannot keep up with the damage left behind by high doses of chemotherapy and radiation required to successfully treat late-stage tumors.

Researchers found that having extra stem cells can protect the intestine and gastrointestinal tract, which allows the absorption of nutrients. Protecting the digestive tract helps the body perform other critical functions and stops bacterial toxins from entering the body's blood circulation.

Researchers say the next step is to test their findings on humans.  They hope that their method can give human cancer patients just enough of an extra edge to survive stronger doses of chemotherapy and radiation.

The findings revealed that 50 percent to 75 percent of mice treated with the molecule survived otherwise lethal doses of chemotherapy. However, all of the mice what did not receive the molecule died after receiving chemotherapy.

"Now we have found a way to protect the intestine in mice. The next step is to aim for a 100-percent survival rate in mice who are injected with the molecules and receive lethal doses of chemotherapy and radiation."

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