Monday, June 12, 2006

Israeli Biologist Turning Tumors into Gold


Karl Skorecki, a biologist at Technion University in Haifa, Israel, is among a handful of researchers hoping to turn a certain kind of rare tumor into biological gold. Accoring to the New York Times, new research suggests that the very property that makes these teratoma tumors sinister - their ability to spawn human tissues - makes them valuable scientifically.

A tumor's encroachment is always terrifying, but teratomas, literally "monster tumors," exert a macabre hold on the imagination because they contain human elements remixed with Frankensteinian logic. It is not unusual for a teratoma to contain patches of hair, errant wedges of cartilage and even fully formed teeth. In the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," Toula's Aunt Voula describes her teratoma as a mutant version of herself: "I had a lump at the back of my neck," she says. "So I go to the doctor, and inside the lump he found teeth and a spinal cord. Inside the lump was my twin."

Teratomas' most fascinating quality, Dr. Skorecki said, is their capacity to generate a smorgasbord of human tissue varieties, including bones, skin and ligaments. As a result, researchers testing a new medicine on a cancer-seeded teratoma can gauge what effects the drug will have on different cell types without enlisting human subjects. "Right now, there isn't a good way to derive primary human cells in the lab, other than a few limited types," Dr. Skorecki said. "With this model, you can see how different kinds of cells respond to the drugs."


Full Story: NY Times

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