Funded in partnership with the Kansas City Chiefs Football Club
Modern cancer treatments cause serious side effects and often fail. Cancers often contain rare stem cells that resist treatments and cause the cancer to come back. At that point, cancer becomes even more difficult to treat. In children, leukemia is the most common type of cancer, and treatment failure occurs in about one in four patients. This situation has remained essentially unchanged for decades, which indicates an urgent need to develop new treatments focused on eliminating cancer stem cells.
Two genetic pathways, which are among the most commonly activated in human cancer, interact to drive cancer stem cell development and resistance to therapy. Surprisingly, we found that a certain common chemotherapy drug can inhibit the cancer stem cell driving interaction of these pathways at low doses. Unlike current practice of using this drug to kill rapidly dividing cells, we changed its use to specifically target treatment resistant cancer stem cells in an animal model.
Cancer is normally held at bay by the immune system. Only when the immune system is undermined can cancer take hold. Our results indicate that the immune system can once again be activated against cancer stem cells. How it does so and how we might improve these responses in patients is mostly mysterious. Now, we will use single cell DNA sequencing to obtain a large scale view of immune effects of our new treatment. This will eventually inform the design better treatments.