Cancer stem cells have enticed scientists because of the potential to provide more durable and widespread cancer cures by identifying and targeting the tumor's most voracious cells.
Now, researchers at Children's Hospital Boston and their colleagues have identified cancer stem cells in a model of the most common form of human lung cancer and, more significantly, have found that the cancer stem cells may vary from tumor to tumor, depending upon the tumor's genetic signature.
"Our study shows the cancer stem cell hypothesis is true in some lung cancers," said senior author Carla Kim, PhD, an assistant professor in the Stem Cell Program at Children's Hospital Boston and the department of genetics at Harvard Medical School (HMS). "It also shows, from one lung cancer to another, the cancer stem cells are not the same."
Cancer stem cells are a subset of cancer cells believed to elude conventional treatments and eventually regenerate a tumor. Experimentally, they show up as cells that can be extracted from a tumor and transplanted to form a new tumor, from which the same tumor-propagating cells can again be extracted and transplanted with the same result. According to Kim, this is the first serial transplantation study to identify lung cancer tumor-propagating cells.
The findings, published in the July 2 Cell Stem Cell, connect the cancer stem cell hypothesis with molecular profiling of tumors (sometimes called personalized medicine). The results may allow researchers to combine stem cell biology with genetic typing to identify what drives the cancerous behavior of each patient's tumor and to develop new therapeutic targets.