Researchers at Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT-M) have found that subjecting cancer cells to microgravity results in the formation of giant cancer cells with stem cell properties.
In a statement issued here on Tuesday, IIT-M said these cells can conceivably be used for cancer research and drug development.
Stem cells are difficult to isolate and grow. Cancer stem cells (CSCs) generally make up just one per cent to three per cent of all cells in a tumour.
Research is being conducted all over the world to extract and culture CSCs for cancer understanding and drug development, the statement said.
The research was led by Professor Rama S. Verma of the Stem Cell and Molecular Biology Laboratory, Bhupat, and Jyoti Mehta School of Biosciences, Department of Biotechnology, IIT-M.
"We have shown that simulated microgravity can be used for development of stem cell structures for drug testing, instead of animal models. CSCs are important in cancer research because they not only instigate formation of tumours, but are also involved in recurrence of tumours after cancer treatment," Verma was quoted as saying in the statement.
He said the stem cells obtained using microgravity can also be used to understand the nature of the cancer cells, their proliferation and cell death pathways, which in turn can help in identification of target zones for drug development.
In an earlier study, the IIT Madras team had found that colorectal cancer cells died under simulated microgravity but once the microgravity condition was removed, they resurrected.
This meant that while microgravity conditions destroyed full-grown cancer cells, they must have allowed stem cells to live, or perhaps converted the cancer cells to stem cell-like forms.
"Either way, these stem cells can be used for cancer research and drug development," said Verma.