If a cell ,call it C1 has no functioning apoptosis mechanism could a stem cell somehow be 'induced' to be like C1 , at least have the same genome as C1. Then use this stem cell 'duplicate' to 'restart' the apoptosis mechanisms in C1 or even replace C1? ( forgive any broadness or vagueness, I'm trying to be specific)

  • $\begingroup$ If I understand what you're asking (which I'm not sure I do...), no, it's not possible. Cells don't transfer their genomes between each other, so any defects or advantages in one cell won't transfer to a neighboring cell. The only way genes are transferred is down a lineage, with the genome of a parent cell being replicated and passed on to daughter cells. $\endgroup$ – MattDMo Feb 15 '15 at 21:30
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    $\begingroup$ Once you copy the genome of a cell into another cell (something that has to happen in the lab, a cell just can't "pick up" a neighboring cell's genes), it becomes a clone of that cell, and loses whatever properties it had before. So, if you have a cancer cell with no functioning apoptosis mechanisms, and copy its genome into a stem cell, the stem cell becomes a cancer cell, and no longer has the properties of "stem-ness". $\endgroup$ – MattDMo Feb 16 '15 at 5:11
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    $\begingroup$ I think you might have a fundamental misunderstanding of what stem cells are, and what they can do. Given the proper chemical pushes, a stem cell can differentiate into nearly any cell type in the body. However, its DNA remains the same - it's just gene expression that changes. Like I said earlier, genomic changes (mutations) cannot be transfered from one cell to the one next to it. $\endgroup$ – MattDMo Feb 16 '15 at 5:16
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    $\begingroup$ That would be nice, but unfortunately it's impossible, at least with today's knowledge and methods. It takes a lot of mutations to completely knock out all mechanisms of apoptosis, and along with that a ton of other mutations occur, as well. The genome of a cancer cell is pretty screwed up. There's just no way to repair it, you've just got to kill the cell and start over. Incidentally, this is one reason why cells have so many different ways to commit suicide - as they start accumulating all these mutations, if they can detect them, they take themselves out of circulation. $\endgroup$ – MattDMo Feb 16 '15 at 5:53
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    $\begingroup$ And these aren't just nice little point mutations, either - entire chromosomes get duplicated, chopped up, rearranged, amplified, etc. There's no template present to "start from scratch." $\endgroup$ – MattDMo Feb 16 '15 at 5:54

The answer is no. There is no method currently known whereby we could get a stem cell to transfer its genome to a cancerous cell and thus get its apoptosis mechanism functioning again. It's just not that easy to get a genome transfered - destroying the defective copy of the genome which is stored in the nucleus and getting a new copy of the entire genome into the same.

Remember that to transfer almost anything (except small non-polar molecules) in and out of the cell, you need highly specialized transporters (ie., ion channels, Na+/glucose pumps). This is particularly true of large molecules like glucose and sucrose (plants). But even those molecules are extremely small compared to an entire chromosome, for which there is nothing even close to a transporter. It would therefore be impossible to get the chromosome into the cell.

But even if you could, you have yet another hurdle: you have to get the new chromosomes into the nucleus... and that only after having destroyed the original genome in Cell 1, without making the environment in the nucleus toxic for the new genome (ie., CAD activity...) This represents innumerable challenges, including the fact that you're going to need to alter the nuclear membrane to allow the entry of a massive macromolecule, without impeding the function of the cell... The problems, unfortunately, go on and on.

TL;DR: Nice idea, and would be really cool if it worked, but it has way, way, way too may complexities and insurmountable hurdles to be even remotely workable.


  • Lemoine R. 2000. Sucrose transporters in plants: update on function and structure. Biomembranes 1465 (1–2): 246-262.
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