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Wellington scientist scores cancer research breakthrough

Wellington scientist scores cancer research breakthrough

A young Wellington research student has made a breakthrough that could change the way tongue cancers are treated.

Ranui Baillie (24) is an Otago University student currently working under the team led by Dr Swee Tan at the Gillies McIndoe Research Institute (GMRI) in Wellington.

She has identified a unique population of cancer stem cells in tongue cancer and a patent registration has now been filed in the United States covering this work.

“Cancer stem cells have been demonstrated in other cancers but this is the first time we have identified a unique population of these cells within tongue cancer,” Ms Baillie says.

These cells are thought to be the driving force behind the development and progression of cancer.

“This is very much a first step towards finding a new treatment for tongue cancer. We can now study these stem cells and learn how to manage them. Hopefully, this will lead to improved outcomes for patients.”

Tongue cancer is one of the most lethal cancers. It kills 50 percent of sufferers within five years, a mortality rate that has not changed in over 40 years, despite significant advances in cancer treatment in that time.

Ms Baillie says that these cancer stem cells have been shown to be resistant to traditional chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

So, while the cancer cells may respond to treatment, the underlying cause – the cancer stem cells – don’t.

“We need to find a new way of thinking about cancer biology and treatment, and that’s what we aim to do at the GMRI,” Ms Baillie said.


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