Using Cancer Cells to Fight Cancer

Posted on September 5, 2018

shutterstock_289607300A new study from the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center in Ann Arbor may have a new way to fight cancer – with cancer stem cells.

This surprise approach focuses on how cancer cells metabolize, or process substances. By understanding how cancer cells perform this function, the researchers can identify and attack their energy supply, which means stopping cancer in its tracks.

This new approach could change the way cancer is treated, a necessity as researchers fear that drug resistance may soon be a problem for cancer treatment.

Like other tissues in the body, cancerous tumors possess stem cells. Like different kinds of stem cells, cancer stem cells can differentiate and regenerate.

Researchers also believe that cancer stem cells play a role in metastases, or the development of secondary tumors, and cancer relapse. This is because cancer stem cells are usually not affected by conventional treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation.

Targeted therapies like chemotherapy and radiation typically only work for a limited amount of time, and cancer may become resistant to these treatments. Researchers believe cancer stem cells are the reason why cancer learns to resist treatment and they adapt to resist these therapies.

To further complicate things, cancer stem cells are flexible and can quickly move between states of dormancy and growth. This ability to switch so fluidly between states makes treating cancer even more difficult.

Hence, the need for new treatments.

The U of M researchers took this project on beginning their research with an analysis of how cancer cells metabolize substances and looking for vulnerabilities in the process.

Like other stem cells, when cancer stem cells are dormant, they require glucose. When the cancer stem cells are active, they need fuel created by the cell mitochondria, an organelle in many types of cells. It is in this organelle that energy production (metabolism) occurs.

To prevent cancer stem cells from metabolizing, the project leaders took a twofold approach; first, they used an arthritis drug to block mitochondria from metabolizing, and second, they used glucose to block that pathway.

The tested their new treatment on models of mice with breast cancer and were successful in knocking out cancer stem cells.

Although the results are promising, using the treatment is still a long way off.

This type of therapy is known as immunotherapy, a form of medical treatment that uses the body’s immune response to fight disease.

“Immunotherapy can trigger the body to kick its natural defense of the body into gear, or it can suppress the immune system to prevent it from attacking the body or its tissues, such as what occurs with autoimmune diseases,” said Dr. Joel Singer, a New York stem cell physician.

Singer uses autologous fat stem cell therapy to treat injury and illness. Fat stem cells can signal the body through chemical messengers that it is time to begin healing injured or sick tissues.

“Chemical messengers are chemical text messages to the body that say, ‘send help’ or ‘send nutrients’,” Singer said.

These chemical messengers also tell nearby dormant stem cells to wake up and get to work.

“Regeneration of cells requires energy,” said Singer.

Stem cell therapy can also be used for individuals living with autoimmune diseases. Stem cells serve as immunomodulators to help reset an overactive immune system back to normal function.

Stem cell therapy, immunotherapy and bioengineering are therapies increasing in popularity as ways to treat different diseases.

A June 2018 article published in Frontiers in Immunology revealed how researchers at the University of California, Irvine are using a combination of the therapies to battle type 1 diabetes, which occurs because of immune system attacks on the pancreas.



Frontiers in Immunology. Approaches in Immunotherapy, Regenerative Medicine, and Bioengineering for Type 1 Diabetes.

Medical News Today. Using cell metabolism to battle cancer. 7 July 2018.


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