New research conducted at the University of Cincinnati (UC) Cancer Institute suggests that lung cancer stem cells can be successfully isolated and grown in a preclinical model. Such a process could provide a new method for investigating immunotherapy treatment options that target lung cancer stem cells.
“Increasing evidence supports the idea that cancerous tumors have a population of stem cells, also called cancer-initiating cells, that continually regenerate and fuel cancer growth,” explains Dr. John Morris, lead author of the study and professor at the UC College of Medicine. “These cancer stem cells may also have the highest potential to spread to other organs.”
The researchers stated that current research models provide limited information in the interaction between cancer stem cells and the immune system. They claim this makes it “virtually impossible” to study therapies that utilize the body’s immune system to fight off cancer.
The new study, published this week in PLOS One, successfully isolated lung cancer stem cells that can be used in a mouse model with full immune system function. The researchers used a “tumorsphere” assay test to accomplish this feat, allowing them to enrich their samples to isolate cancer stem cells.
The research team now hopes to develop more effective therapies that target cancer stem cells by showing how those cells escape the body’s immune system.
“One of the hypotheses behind why cancer therapies fail is that the drug only kills cells deemed to be ‘bad’ (because of certain molecular characteristics), but leaves behind stem cells to repopulate the tumor,” said Morris. “Stem cells are not frequently dividing, so they are much less sensitive to existing chemotherapies used to eliminate cells deemed abnormal.
“Studying these unique cells could greatly improve our understanding of lung cancer’s origins and lead to the novel therapeutics targeting these cells and help to more effectively eradicate this disease. Immunotherapy is the future of cancer treatment. We are hopeful that this new method will accelerate our investigation of immunotherapies to specifically target cancer stem cells.”