Cancer Stem Cells and Biology Program

Recent advances in stem cell biology suggest that cancer stem cells comprise a minority of cells which can self-renew and regenerate the tumor, while a majority of the tumor cells are cells lacking such regenerative capacity. In addition, cancer stem cells are generally more resistant to chemotherapeutic drugs, and a major goal is to develop agents that selectively kill such cells, giving rise to a more specific and less toxic treatment of cancer. The projects that the Cancer Stem Cells and Biology group are working on include: (1) systems biology of ovarian carcinoma: design of new diagnostic and therapeutic strategies, (2) targeting transcription factors in leukemic stem cells, (3) SALL4 in stem cells, leukemia, and liver cancer, (4) gastric cancer stem cells, (5) microRNA of liver cancer stem cells, (6) cancer genome of hepatocellular carcinoma. Recent development of technologies has made the study of genomic changes and expression profiles in cancer cells highly feasible. Furthermore, whole genome sequencing of cancer tissues is rapidly expanding the list of genes involved in various human cancers. A critical task is to study how these genes function in normal cells and how their dysregulation induces cancer. The Cancer Stem Cells and Biology Program has identified a number of critical pathways, including those that promote or suppress growth of cells, tissue invasion and metastasis, hypoxia and induction of angiogenesis, apoptosis, DNA damage response, cell cycle regulation and chromosome integrity, inactivation of tumour suppressors, as well as novel mechanisms of hypoxia in cancer. A special area of expertise of this program is in gene regulation in cancer, including studies of transcription factors, perigenetics (the interaction of transcription factors and epigenetic mechanisms) and RNAs in cancer, including long noncoding RNAs, microRNAs, and RNA editing in cancer.