Cancer Stem Cells Impact on Treatment, Obergurgl

By Angel Garcia Martin - December 16, 2016

Last week I attended the Cancer Stem Cells: Impact on Treatment conference in Obergurgl, Tyrol, Austria, getting the opportunity to interface with scientists from across the cancer stem cell field. It was a great conference where the top issues associated with this exciting topic came up for fruitful discussion in an unparalleled alpine environment.  I would like to thank and acknowledge the great work of the organizers, represented by Prof. Ira Skvortsova, Innsbruck Medical University.


I am sharing the top topics that I considered in my opinion the most relevant.

The conference started off with Dr. Dean Tang’s (Rosewell Park Cancer Institute, Buffalo, NY) keynote on prostate cancer stem cells. A cancer stem cell was defined as a cancer cell with stem cell properties, which is different from the cell of origin of the tumor, as the normal cell that received the cancer causing mutation and became transformed. Dr. Tang insisted on the realization of functional tests to clearly identify a cancer stem cell as such. He showed very interesting data on cancer stem cell plasticity and the triggers of such plasticity in prostate cancer. Understanding the mechanisms of such plasticity may be used to uncover novel small molecules for the treatment of prostate cancer.  Plasticity was also discussed by other speakers, such as Dr. Purificación Muñoz (IDIBEL, Barcelona, Spain) in squamous cell carcinoma using mouse models as the appearance of several cell populations with cancer stem cell capacity.

Then I presented the use of 3D spheroids derived from enriched cultures in cancer stem cells for drug discovery as a rapid functional test, with our new product Cell2SphereTM as a new standard in the industry.  A number of talks mentioned the use of 3D cell culture systems as a functional read out of stem cell function and as a personalized medicine approach using cancer patient samples, such as Dr. Rob Coppes (Groningen, The Netherlands) in esophageal cancer who showed that they are able to obtain ex vivo organoid cultures from most of the patient samples.

Another topic that was extensively discussed was the role of the niche/stroma in the generation of cells with stem cell properties.   Examples of this topic were T. Steinbichler’s talk on the role of TGFb1 and IL6 for modulation of tumor associated fibroblast effect on tumor cells or the nice review by Dr. J. Dittmer (Halle, Germany).

As far as indications go, most of the meeting was devoted to prostate cancer and radio-resistance (6 talks) and glioblastoma (6 talks). 

Particularly interesting were the talks of Dr. Caterina La Porta (U. of Milan, Italy) describing markers (such as CXCR6) for phenotypic switching in melanoma stem cells; amazing state of the art proteomics profiling by Dr. Connie Jimenez (Amsterdam, The Netherlands) or the role of YAP/TAZ  transcription factor in regulation of the size of the stem cell compartment in several tumor indications (by Luca Azzolin, Padua, Italy, who also won the prize to best oral communication).

On the clinical side, there were several talks giving an overview of the clinical management of the cancer patients (such as ovarian cancer by Dr. Nelleke Ottevanger, Nijmegen, The Netherlands) and the talk of Dr. Michael Weller (Zurich, Switzerland) presenting some disruptive concepts in clinical trial design.

Overall I believe the major issues associated to understanding cancer stem cell biology, treatment and clinical application of cancer stem cell oriented therapies were discussed.  Once again, the complexity of the biology makes it imperative to design functional tests to clearly understand the behavior of stem cell populations on tumors.  Moreover, I see there is now an agreement that the cancer stem cell compartment is a moving target, better described as a property of tumor cells rather than a discrete population associated with the expression of a particular marker.

We’ll keep on the search for novel treatments for cancer patients!

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