Researchers discover new cancer stem cells in breast tissue

March 02, 2016

As research for new cancer therapies has recently focused on eliminating cancer stem cells, Weinberg cautions that the plasticity seen in these basal cells suggests a more complicated scenario than previously thought.

"Future drug therapies that are targeted against cancer will need to eliminate the cancer stem cells and, in addition, get rid of the non-stem cells in tumors - both populations must be removed," says Weinberg, who is also a professor of biology at MIT. "Knocking out one or the other is unlikely to suffice to generate a durable clinical response."

Chaffer is now focusing on what actually prompts these flexible cells to de-differentiate, and in the case of cancer cells, how to stop the cells from converting into cancer stem cells.

"This plasticity can occur naturally, and it seems that the trigger may be a physiological mechanism for restoring a pool of stem cells," says Chaffer. "We believe that certain cells are more susceptible to such a trigger and therefore to conversion from a differentiated to a stem-like state, and that this process occurs more frequently in cancerous cells."

In the case of normal epithelial cells, the observed behavior may also allow patient specific adult stem cells to be derived without genetic manipulation, holding promise for degenerative disease therapy.

Source: Whitehead Institute