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Cancer stem cells II

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Since we've just had a discussion of generalities about cancer stem cells (here), it seems like it would be fun to have a summary of research on CSCs that was presented at the recent meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in San Diego, or reported since then. So here it is.

As general background, keep in mind that cell surface proteins CD44 and CD24 are considered to be markers of cancer stem cells in various (but not necessarily all) types of cancer. Also, certain cell signaling pathways are thought to be especially important in the activity of cancer stem cells. The list includes Wnt, Sonic hedgehog, Notch, and Bmi1.

Stem Cell-Like Cancer Cells Resistant To Standard Therapy, Responsive To Targeted Therapy (4/29/08)
Previous research had identified a subset of cells in breast tumors that have the ability to form colonies in culture and give rise to tumors in mouse models. Such cells are thought to be cancer stem cells. They express the cell surface glycoprotein CD44, but not CD24, and they appear to be resistant to standard chemotherapeutic agents. However, the drug lapatinib, which inhibits the HER2 pathway, seems to selectively kill these cells.

Getting To The Roots Of Breast Cancer (4/29/08)
This is another report on the research described in the previous item. It provides additional details on the research protocol.

Stem Cell Type Supposed To Be Crucial For Angiogenesis And Cancer Growth Does Not Exist? (4/22/08)
This study casts doubt on the existence of a certain type of bone-marrow derived stem cell that has been suspected of circulating in the blood and acting as a precursor to endothelial cells that make up blood vessel walls. Such cells, if they existed, would be an important target for inhibiting angiogenesis in tumors. The researchers showed, using advanced techniques with mouse models, that endothelial differentiation is not a typical function of bone-marrow derived stem cells.

Ovarian Cancer Stem Cells Identified, Characterized (4/17/08)
Researchers have identified, characterized and cloned ovarian cancer stem cells and have shown that these stem cells may be the source of ovarian cancer's recurrence and its resistance to chemotherapy. They isolated cells from samples of either peritoneal fluid or solid tumors. The cancer stem cells that were identified had traditional cancer stem cell markers including CD44 and MyD88 (which interacts with toll-like receptors to activate NF-κB).
The cells also showed a high capacity for repair and self-renewal. Such cells, when isolated, were capable of forming tumors 100 percent of the time. Within those tumors, 10 percent of the cells were CD44 positive, while 90 percent were CD44 negative, indicating that some cancer stem cells had undergone differentiation.

Stem Cells: The Role Of Cancer-initiating Cells In Diagnosis And Treatment (4/15/08)
This press release describes research presented at the AACR meeting related to stem cells and pancreatic, bladder, ovarian, and breast cancer, and glioma.

Research in pancreatic cancer found that in addition to CD44 and CD24, the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase was expressed in a small population of tumor cells. Cells expressing aldehyde dehydrogenase had greater growth capacity than those that didn't, and they were also associated with poorer overall survival.

In a study of breast cancer and glioma, surface markers were not found be sufficient as markers of stem cell activity. However, cells with low proteasome activity did have notably greater capacity for self-renewal and tumor production capacity. (Proteasomes are large protein complexes that degrade unneeded or damaged proteins.)

Researchers studying bladder transitional cell carcinomas found, in 40% of cases, CD44+ cells with other stem cell self-renewal patterns. In these cells, 85% had active Gli1, a part of the Hedgehog pathway, originally discovered in human glioblastoma. A relatively small percentage had active Bmi1, Stat3, or β-catenin (part of the Wnt pathway). None had active Oct4 or Nanog (pluripotent stem cells markers).

The research on ovarian cancer (noted above) involving CD44 and MyD88 markers is referenced again here.

Stem Cell Marker Controls Two Key Cancer Pathways (4/14/08)
Research into breast cancer stem cells has identified, for the first time, another gene that may be involved, Msi1. The investigators showed that Msi1 activated Wnt and Notch signaling. Other studies have shown that Msi1 is a marker of human adult stem cells in general because it has been found in human breast, colon, brain, skin, and other cells. Msi1 was found to affects mammary cells to influence whether they develop into muscle, milk duct linings, etc. Further, Msi1 was found to be expressed in particularly aggressive tumors.

Stem Cells And Cancer: Scientists Investigate A Fine Balancing Act (4/11/08)
This is a report of a general talk about how the mechanisms normally involved in balancing different functions of stem cells may also contribute to cancer. For example, research shows that Bmi1 is important for maintaining stocks of stem cells, and without it stocks of stem cells are depleted. But also Bmi1 is overactive in various cancers including brain tumors.

Secrets of cellular signaling shed light on new cancer stem cell therapies (4/10/08)
Researchers are beginning to study inhibition of signaling pathways that seem to be active in tumors fed by cancer stem cells. In this case, inhibition of the Notch pathway is being investigated as part of a treatment, together with chemotherapy, for metastatic breast cancer. An important question is whether cancer stem cells are sufficiently different from normal adult stem cells so that inhibition of Notch signaling is not harmful. Results of testing in mice indicate that Notch signals are not required for the maintenance of blood-forming stem cells in adult mice.

Stem cells and cancer: cancer pathways that also control the adult stem cell population (4/10/08)
Apc (adenomatosis polyposis coli) is a tumor-suppressing protein that controls β-catenin and hence affects Wnt signaling. When intestinal crypts are damaged and need to be regenerated, Wnt signaling directs stem cells to generate replacement cells. Apc normally turns off Wnt signaling of stem cells when it is no longer needed. The research here showed that if Apc is lost or damaged, Wnt signaling may continue and result in tumor formation

Cancer Stem Cells Created With New Technique (4/9/08)
One of the most important unresolved questions about cancer stem cells is how they originate to begin with. For instance, are they mutations of existing stem cells, or instead precancerous cells that have acquired stem-cell-like capabilities? The research here supports the latter scenario. Starting with normal skin cells, the researchers activated three genes associated with embryonic stem cells. The result closely resembled known cancer stem cells. And they also had more resemblance to normal embryonic stem cells than to normal adult stem cells. One of the genes was Myc, which has also been used to create pluripotent stem cells from skin cells. In addition to the scientific significance of this work, it should also facilitate study of cancer stem cells, which are otherwise hard to locate.

Module Map Links Embryonic Stem Cells And Cancer Stem Cells (4/9/08)
The researchers involved in the work described in the preceding report have additional related findings. They systematically compared gene expression patterns between embryonic stem cells and multiple types of human cancer cells. Gene expression patterns in diverse human epithelial cancers were much like patterns in embronic stem cells. Further, presence of these patterns in cancer cells strongly predicted metastasis and death. On the other hand, normal adult tissue stem cells had an opposite pattern, which was repressed in various human cancers compared to normal tissues. The researchers additionally demonstrated that c-Myc, but not other oncogenes, was sufficient to reactivate the ESC-like program in normal and cancer cells.

And here's some earlier research that features the Nanog and Bmi1 proteins:

To Evade Chemotherapy, Some Cancer Cells Mimic Stem Cells (9/19/07)
Anti-cancer treatments often effectively shrink the size of tumors, but some might have an opposite effect, actually expanding the small population of cancer stem cells believed to drive the disease, according to new findings.

"Our experiments suggest that some treatments could be producing more cancer stem cells that then are capable of metastasizing, because these cells are trying to find a way to survive the therapy," said one of the study's investigators, Vasyl Vasko.

When the researchers applied various anti-cancer drugs to experimental cancer cells, they found that surviving cells expressed more Nanog and Bmi1:
They selected a rare form of cancer, mesenchymal chondrosarcoma (MCS), which has not been well described and for which there is no effective treatment. The researchers first determined that Nanog and BMI1 stem cell markers were more highly expressed in metastatic tumors compared to primary tumors. ...

They then applied various therapies - from VEGF inhibitors such as Avastin to the proteasome inhibitor Velcade - in mice implanted with human MSC, and analyzed the effects on tumors. Some of the treatments seemed to work, because they led to a dramatic decrease in the size of the tumors, Dr. Vasko said. But analysis of stem cell expression before and after treatment revealed that even as some anti-cancer treatments shrank tumors, they increased expression of Nanog and BMI1. "These treatments were not enough to completely inhibit tumor growth, and the cancer stem cell markers were still present," Dr. Vasko said.

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