Dr Girish Patel
The principal focus of my laboratory lies in understanding the biological basis of cancer, with a specific focus on skin cancer stem cells.
The central tenet of the cancer stem cell theory evocatively promises cure for cancer patients if a relatively small portion of cancer cells, called cancer stem cells, are efficiently killed. Conversely, therapies that target the tumour bulk and not cancer stem cells specifically risk leaving cancer stem cells behind that can re-populate the tumour bulk. Over the last decade we and others have defined the presence of cancer stem cells in 16 human malignancies as the drivers of cancer growth, typically representing <2% of tumour cells in skin cancers.
Skin cancers (basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma) have been the fastest growing types of cancer, and numbers will likely continue to increase. Skin cancers are the most common of all malignancies worldwide, with over 100,000 new cases per year in the UK. They represent an enormous socioeconomic burden, at a cost £500M per annum in the UK, and cause ~3000 UK deaths each year.
Skin cancers are also model tumours for the study of cancer stem cell biology since fresh human tumour tissue is readily accessible, their biology is similar to other malignancies, and that DNA mutations that give rise to these cancers can be characterised by a UV signature. We have used in vivo and in vitro assays, which we have developed, to define cancer stem cell populations in human basal cell carcinoma and human squamous cell carcinoma. In human basal cell carcinoma we have been able to show that the cancer stem cells are responsible for resistance and recurrence after conventional chemotherapy and also the recently introduced smoothened antagonists.
Human squamous cell carcinoma (red: human HLA1 antibody) xenograft surrounded by host stroma (green: murine MHC1 antibody), and cell nuclei stained in blue (DAPI)
Human basal cell carcinoma in vitro colony
All the common skin cancers are notoriously resistant to chemotherapy and metastatic disease is invariably fatal. In addition to exploring drug resistance mechanism, we are currently exploring new cancer targets. While these studies are laboratory based, we also plan to begin cancer stem cell based therapeutic clinical trials in 2014.
Current Grant Support
Cancer Research UK
Welsh Assembly Government (NISCHR)
British Skin Foundation