There exists a weird kind of cancer called a teratoma, whose cells seem to think that they are in an embryo. These cancers differentiate; develop hair, teeth, skin, all manner of messy things. They exist in humans and animals. Some very odd guy wondered if teratoma cells, which seem to want to be an embryo, would actually become one if given a favorable environment. He implanted teratoma cells into an early-stage rat embryo; the teratoma cells there experienced the proper chemical cues and developed into part of a rat. He ended up with a piebald rat – some of the cells had a regular rat mom and dad, while other parts were descended from a cancer propagated in a tissue culture. The rat was fine. I first ran into this report the very same afternoon that I read The Boys from Brazil.

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13 Responses to Teratomas

  1. El Bow says:

    Would it be possible to trick a single teratomic cell into thinking it was a zygote?

  2. Bruce W Bowen says:

    It would seem to me that, in at least some cancers, the cell’s “program counter” get corrupted, leading to the wrong code getting executed.

  3. amac78 says:

    I wonder if any of the piebald rats produced viable oocytes or sperm descended from the implanted teratoma cell. That’d be interesting.

    • jasonbayz says:

      According to the source, yes:

      “The malignant carcinoma cells, after introduction into normal blastocysts, have given rise to a large variety of normal tissues in three mosaic mice (including one animal still quite incompletely analyzed). The tissues thus far known to have differentiated from the carcinoma implants include melanoblasts, hair follicle dermis, erythrocytes, leucocytes of diverse kinds, liver, thymus, kidneys, and, perhaps most striking of all, sperms. Normal function of these tissues is attested to by production of the 129-strain-specific adult type of hemoglobin, by erythrocytes; immunoglobulins, by plasma cells; MUP, by hepatocytes; glucose-phosphate isomerase, by various tissues; black eumelanin, by melanocytes; elicitation of the phaeomelanin effect, by hair follicle cells; and production of progeny, from eggs fertilized by tumor derived sperms.”

  4. anon says:

    Could you please link to the paper discussing this? I am very interested to learn more. Thanks!

  5. j mct says:

    Were the cells the ‘age’ of the original donor, the rat that had cancer? Like the clone of the sheep that was born middle aged because the donor was middle aged, except that this rat would be weirdly lumpily young and old at the same time.

    Or are these sort of cancer cells ‘young’ as well as embryonic?

  6. TWS says:

    I have read this a couple times and still have trouble wrapping my mind around the wonderful weirdness. A cancer became a rat. A healthy rat.

    Proof of course, that the rat is the devil’s lap-dog but we all knew that. I wonder what kind of grimoire this guy used and if he has succeeded in creating homunculus or golems.

  7. deuce says:

    There is definitely a horror tale in there somwhere.

  8. pollux says:

    I find that I would really like to meet the very odd guy who wondered this, given that I’ve wondered the same thing myself.

  9. rob says:

    How would teratomas stack up as sources of embryonic (sorta) stem cells? Also, cancers of poorly differentiated cells are the deadliest. Maybe all cancers get an advantage as they become more embryonc, because what cells reproduce faster than those in the embryo?

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