Cancer

Broad Stem Cell Research Center faculty are dedicated to changing the diagnosis and treatment of cancer by attacking cancer stem cells through a new regenerative medicine. Our faculty have made significant contributions to the understanding and treatment of cancer. For example, Center Director, Dr. Owen Witte’s fundamental research in leukemia and epilethial cancers became the foundation for the later development of Gleevec, the first targeted therapy for chronic myelogenous leukemia. Additionally, Center member Dr. Dennis Slamon identified the gene and conducted the clinical research that resulted in the approval of Herceptin, the first targeted therapy for breast cancer.

The UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center (JCCC) and the stem cell center are closely partnered. The collaboration is illustrated by the JCCC director and stem cell center co-director, Dr. Judith Gasson’s invaluable role in guiding our research programs.

Building upon UCLA’s proven translational track record and our close partnership with the JCCC, our faculty seek to discover and develop new forms of targeted therapy through the application of stem cell technologies to treat this devastating and complex disease.

Cancer Stem Cells
Research indicates that most, if not all, cancers arise from cancer stem cells. Cancer stem cells make up only a small percentage of the cells in a solid tumor or in leukemias, making them hard to find and difficult to target. In the last decade scientists have been able to isolate leukemia stem cells as well as brain, prostate and breast cancer stem cells.

Conventional cancer therapies target rapidly dividing tumor cells, but cancer stem cells lay dormant and survive chemotherapy and new molecularly targeted therapies. At some point, the cancer stem cells begin to self-renew and differentiate, creating a new tumor or leukemia cells and the cancer begins to grow again.

Breakthroughs
Researchers at the Broad Stem Cell Research Center have made remarkable inroads in studying cancer stem cells. Their findings and ongoing projects address possible treatments as well as diagnosis and prevention.

Potential breakthrough stem cell treatments identified by our faculty include:

  • helping the body’s own cells fight cancer by engineering, through stem cells, a cancer-fighting immune system. This strategy places T cell receptor genes into stem cells to generate a patient’s renewable source of lymphocytes to fight disease.
  • identifing the molecular and genetic mechanisms that cause normal blood stem cells to become cancerous, which could lead to new therapies that target leukemia stem cells and kill the early cells that give rise to mature cancer cells.
  • developing screening methods that will match specific drug treatments with patients with brain, ovarian and colorectal cancer based on molecular and genetic response to the therapy and avoiding trial and error.

Our stem cell efforts in the diagnosis and prevention of cancer include:

  • Identifying for the first time a cell-of-origin for human prostate cancer, a discovery that could result in better predictive and diagnostic tools and the development of new and more effective targeted treatments for the disease.
  • Characterizing the different stem cell populations found in the lung and determining how they form lesions that later develop into lung cancer in an effort to develop a screening test to identify patients who are most at risk.
  • Identifying what proteins are made by brain cancer stem cells and determining whether they’re different than those made by normal brain stem cells or different among different types of brain cancers.
  • Discovering the nature and characteristics of normal epithelial stem cells that may be the precursor cells for ovarian and uterine cancers.
  • Defining the genetic changes that prompt tissue-specific stem cells to convert into cancer stem cells and identifying the chemical and biological molecules that can be used to stop the cancer stem cells.