Several of our grantees are working on projects that involve destroying the stem cells at the heart of cancer. These cancer stem cells are a bit of a mind-bender: We’re used to thinking of stem cells as a good thing — they regenerate damaged tissues in our bodies. But cancer stem cells constantly regenerate the cancer. Destroy those stem cells and, we hope, you destroy the cancer.
One challenge for our grantees and for others has been that stem cells for different kinds of cancer have different properties, and it’s been hard to both find them and figure out how to kill them. Some scientists funded by the Broad Institute have taken another step toward solving this problem for acute myeloid leukemia stem cells.
The work, published in Nature Chemical Biology, provides a new way for scientists to mimic the cancer stem cell’s normal home in the bone marrow, then screen drugs to find ones that destroy the cells. A press release from the Broad Institute describes the findings:
After using the new system to screen more than 14,000 compounds, roughly a dozen were found that inhibited malignant stem cells and overcame the protective effects of stromal cells, while sparing healthy stem cells in a related screen. Several of the compounds were already known to inhibit leukemic cells, bolstering the validity of the model. The researchers further showed that many of the compounds could not have been found through traditional screening in cell lines, suggesting that the compounds are exerting their effects through more physiologic biology modeled in the novel system.
There’s more on our website about cancer stem cells and our grantees who are also looking for ways to destroy these cells in forms of leukemia.