Issue
Winter
2006
Volume
19
Issue
1
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Cornell University
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At Cornell

Shahin Rafii
Stem Cells: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Shahin Rafii

Identifying The Problem

Shanin RafiiAs a physician-scientist, most of my scientific approach to solving problems is derived from health-related problems, such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, and neurological disorders. We identify the patients’ problems—the diseases they have—and we go back to the lab to try to solve them. I’m a hematologist-oncologist and vascular biologist, so I take care of cancer patients and patients with blood and cardiovascular disorders. The problem is obvious: 540,000 people die from cancer every year in the United States and twice as many are diagnosed with cancer. The same number of people also succumbs to cardiovascular disease. We can cure only a very small percentage of patients with cancer or heart disorders. So the problem is tremendous, and the solutions are difficult.

One of the most exciting topics in cancer biology relates to the identification of cancer stem cells. Researchers had thought that tumor tissue is composed primarily of a homogenous population of cancer cells, but it turns out that each cancer cell is unique and that there may be a cancer stem cell, which may be the primary cell driving tumor growth. If we kill 99 percent of the cancer cells, but not the cancer stem cells, we haven’t solved the problem.

 

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