Stem cell abnormalities in esophagus may lead to Barrett's esophagus

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According to new findings published in the journal Cell Reports, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, have found that the esophagus has its own pool of stem cells despite previous findings that suggest the opposite.

The findings of the study could help in better understanding the causes of esophageal cancer and Barrett's esophagus, as well as lead to the development of new treatment options. The researchers knew that cells in the inner layers of the esophagus divide twice weekly to produce cells that ultimately become the specialized cells of the lining of the esophagus. The dying cells slough off into the gastrointestinal tract.

This study determined that there is a subpopulation of stem cells in the deeper layers of the esophagus, disproving the belief that all the cells in the deeper layers are the same.

Stem cells are more likely to rest rather than divide, so it was believed that there were no stem cells in the esophagus due to the regular division of cells. The researchers found that these stem cells divide slowly whereas the other cells in the deeper layers divide regularly. Future studies must be conducted to determine if esophageal stem cell abnormalities lead to Barrett's esophagus.

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The esophagus has its own pool of stem cells despite previous findings that suggest the opposite.

Despite previous indications to the contrary, the esophagus does have its own pool of stem cells, said researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in an animal study published online today in Cell Reports. The findings could lead to new insights into the development and treatment of esophageal cancer and the precancerous condition known as Barrett's esophagus.

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 18,000 people will be diagnosed with esophageal cancer in the U.S. in 2014 and almost 15,500 people will die from it. In Barrett's esophagus, the lining of the esophagus changes for unknown reasons to resemble that of the intestine, though gastro-esophageal reflux disease or GERD is a risk factor for its development.

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