The ultimate test of our ability to treat cancer is how long and how well patients can live after diagnosis.
In recent decades, medical science has made steady progress on lifespan and quality of life for cancer sufferers. However, overall survival rates still remain low for some cancer types, and re-growth of the tumour after initial treatment remains all too common.
Targeting cancer stem cells offers the possibility of transforming this rate of progress.
Cancer stem cells can contribute to tumour growth in at least three different ways. In some cancers, particularly blood cancers, they can generate all the other types of cells found in the tumour. Therefore, it should be possible to treat cancer more effectively by selectively eliminating the cancer stem cells within a tumour – rather than simply attacking all of the tumour cells, as has happened in the past. Cancer stem cells also have the ability to spread a cancer around the body and are also responsible for cancer regrowth after treatment.
Our knowledge of the mechanisms of cancer stem cells and cancer is growing, but there is much more we need to learn about cancer stem cells. We know there may be similarities between cancer stem cells and the stem cells which form the early embryo and were discovered by Cardiff University President Professor Sir Martin Evans. There are also similarities between cancer stem cells and the stem cells in the adult body which keep, for example, the gut, skin and blood healthy. But there are also differences.
The strategy of the European Cancer Stem Cell Research Institute is to translate our cutting-edge research into novel therapies. With thirteen Research groups made up of key international players in fundamental and translational science in multiple cancer models, we are investigating cancer stem cells in the most common cancer types, including blood, skin, colon, breast, lung, prostate and pancreatic.