In the hunt to discover how ovarian cancer starts researchers have looked into the theory that certain stem cells or stem-like cells could be the root of the problem.

Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of death in women in the United States, but not much is know what cells the cancer starts from and what genes are mutated in the beginning of the process.

Cancers usually occur when a cell that normally has a certain job to do, gets a mutation in a few key genes and starts to reproduce uncontrolled. Normal cells have checks and balances in place so this process does not occur. This damage to the genes could occur from exposure to radiation, chemicals, UV light or randomly.

In the present study, researchers found a group of cells in mouse ovaries that were similar to stem cells in the way they acted and functioned. Researchers, from Cornell University and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) turned off two genes that usually suppress the transition of normal cells to cancerous cells and saw that these cells would cause ovarian cancer when transplanted back into mice.

Co-author Grigori Enikolopov, who led the CSHL team, summarized the findings in press release:

"We demonstrated that a stem cell population sits in a portion of the ovary called the hilum, and can repair the ruptures of the ovarian tissue during ovulation, and that these cells are easily transformed into tumor cells."

The researchers state that this finding holds the promise of understanding the role that types of stem cells have in the development of various cancers.

The research report published in the journal Nature can be found here