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How to Defuse a Time Bomb: Therapies against Cancer Stem Cells

How to Defuse a Time Bomb
Reported by
Catherine Zandonella

Posted April 20, 2007


Cancer stem cells combine the stem-cell properties of self-renewal and multipotency with the rampant cell division that characterizes cancer. In a December 7, 2006, symposium, researchers from industry and academia met to discuss ways to apply what they know about cancer stem cells to new treatments for cancer.

Austin Gurney of OncoMed Pharmaceuticals discussed promising research on monoclonal antibodies that target and inactivate cancer stem cells. Elsa Quintana-Fernandez of the University of Michigan described the development of therapies that target cancer stem cells but not normal hematopoeitic stem cells.

Jean Wang of the University Health Network in Toronto described how a drug that targets CD44 molecules on the cancer stem cell surface successfully eradicates human acute myeloid leukemia (AML) stem cells. Ivan Bergstein of Stemline Therapeutics discussed how his company has identified a novel compound that targets cancer stem cells by binding a receptor not found on non-cancerous stem cells.

Web Sites

OncoMed Pharmaceuticals
Austin Gurney's company is working to develop novel therapeutics that target solid tumor cancer stem cells.

International Society for Stem Cell Research
An independent, nonprofit organization formed to foster the exchange of information on stem cell research.

The Cancer Stem Cells Project
A project dedicated to the identification of genetic pathways that regulate the survival and development of cancer and cancer stem cells.

The Ludwig Center for Cancer Stem Cell Research and Medicine
A multidisciplinary institute at Stanford University dedicated to basic research and therapeutic applications of cancer stem cells.

Stemline Therapeutics
Ivan Bergstein's company is searching for and developing novel cancer therapeutics that target cancer stem cells.

Journal Articles

Clarke MF, Becker MW. 2006. Stem cells: the real culprits in cancer? Scientific American (June 26). Full Text

Jordan CT, Guzman ML, Noble M. 2006. Cancer stem cells. N. Engl. J. Med.355: 1253-1261.

Krivtsov AV, Twomey D, Feng Z, et al. 2006. Transformation from committed progenitor to leukaemia stem cell initiated by MLL-AF9. Nature 442: 818-822.

McKenzie JL, Gan OI, Doedens M, et al. 2006. Individual stem cells with highly variable proliferation and self-renewal properties comprise the human hematopoietic stem cell compartment. Nat. Immunol. 7: 1225-1233.

O'Brien CA, Pollett A, Gallinger S, Dick JE. 2007. A human colon cancer cell capable of initiating tumour growth in immunodeficient mice. Nature 445: 106-110.

Reya T, Morrison SJ, Clarke MF, Weissman IL. 2001. Stem cells, cancer, and cancer stem cells. Nature 414: 105-111.

Ricci-Vitiani L, Lombardi DG, Pilozzi E, et al. 2007. Identification and expansion of human colon-cancer-initiating cells. Nature 445: 111-115.

Yang JC, Dick JE. 2005. Cancer stem cells: lessons from leukemia. Trends Cell Biol. 15: 494-501.

Yilmaz OH, Valdez R, Theisen BK, et al. 2006. Pten dependence distinguishes haematopoietic stem cells from leukaemia-initiating cells. Nature 441: 475-482.


Austin Gurney, PhD

OncoMed Pharmaceuticals
e-mail | web site | publications

Austin Gurney is vice president of molecular and cellular biology at OncoMed Pharmaceuticals. Previously he spent 12 years at Genentech, where he was promoted to senior scientist and to acting director of the Department of Molecular Biology. He has been responsible for the discovery and characterization of numerous cytokines and growth factors.

Gurney received his PhD from Case Western Reserve in biochemistry and molecular biology in 1992. He completed postdoctoral studies with Bryan Williams at the Cleveland Clinic, and with David Goeddel at Genentech.

Elsa Quintana-Fernandez, PhD

University of Michigan
e-mail | web site | publications

Elsa Quintana-Fernandez is a postdoctoral research fellow in the laboratory of Sean Morrison at the Life Sciences Institute at the University of Michigan. She completed a doctorate in pharmacology in 2004 at the University of Valencia, Spain, and then worked under a grant in the Cytometry Unit of the Fundación Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Cardiovasculares Carlos III (CNIC) in Madrid. As a graduate student, her research was focused on the role of nitric oxide in the regulation of gastrointestinal function under stress circumstances. As a postdoctoral fellow, Elsa has switched to the stem cell research in the context of cancer. Elsa is currently working under a fellowship held by the Ministry of Education and Sciences of Spain and will soon switch to be funded by the European program Marie Curie.

Jean Wang, MD, PhD

University Health Network, Toronto

Jean Wang is an assistant professor in the Division of Hematology-Oncology at the University Health Network, Toronto. She completed her PhD and MD at the University of Toronto.

Ivan Bergstein, MD

Stemline Therapeutics
e-mail | web site | publications

Ivan Bergstein is CEO of Stemline Therapeutics, a biotechnology company that is developing anti-cancer therapeutics that target cancer stem cells.

Prior to founding Stemline, Bergstein was medical director of Access Oncology, Inc. (now Keryx Biopharmaceuticals, Inc. [Nasdaq: KERX]) where he was a key member of the team that in-licensed and developed several clinical stage oncology compounds. Prior to this, he was senior biopharmaceuticals analyst at Cancer Advisors (now Nitron Advisors), a Wall Street-based firm that advises investment funds on public oncology-focused companies.

Bergstein received a BA in mathematics from the University of Pennsylvania and an MD from the Mount Sinai Medical Center, and completed an internal medicine residency and hematology-medical oncology fellowship at the New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Medical College of Cornell University.

Catherine Zandonella

Catherine Zandonella is a science writer based in New York City, covering such topics as environmental science, public health, and applied technology. She has a master's degree in public health from the University of California, Berkeley. Zandonella has written for a number of publications, including New Scientist, The Scientist, and Nature.