Tumor Initiation and Maintenance

Growing breast cancer stem cells to get at the tumor’s root

Growing breast cancer stem cells to get at the tumor’s root

Dr. Robert Oshima and colleagues developed a technique for growing cancer stem cells—an advance that will help them search for new approaches to preventing breast tumor recurrence.

Meet a cancer researcher

Meet a cancer researcher

Meet Dr. Jochen Maurer, a postdoctoral researcher in Sanford-Burnham’s NCI-designated Cancer Center.

Personalized models of childhood brain cancer

Personalized models of childhood brain cancer

Dr. Robert Wechsler-Reya and his team created a new mouse model for a particularly malignant form of medulloblastoma, and zero in on a potential therapy.

What is tumor initiation and maintenance?

Tumor initiation is the process by which normal cells in the blood, brain, lung, skin, pancreas and other tissues acquire genetic mutations and turn into cancer cells. Tumor maintenance refers to the mechanisms that allow these cells to survive and divide, often despite radiation and chemotherapy, resulting in an aggressive and life-threatening tumor.

What is the focus of our program—What questions are
we asking?

The TIM Program seeks to identify the cells that give rise to tumors and the signals that allow these cells to expand uncontrollably. Several members of the program focus on Stem Cells and Development, studying the stem cells that generate the brain, the mammary glands, the muscles and the skin, and how mutations transform these cells into cancer cells. Another major theme is Cell Growth Signaling, which includes investigation of the growth factors that cause cells to proliferate, and the proteins within cells that allow them to respond to these factors. Finally, several researchers in the program study RNA Biology, analyzing the ribonucleic acid (RNA) molecules that play key roles in regulating cell division, differentiation and survival.

How will our research help patients?

Members of the TIM program are elucidating the origins and molecular mechanisms of diseases such as breast cancer, skin cancer and brain tumors. Their research not only deepens our understanding of these diseases, but also points the way toward novel approaches to therapy. Recent investigations in the program have:
  • Identified drugs that induce breast cancer cells to differentiate into normal cells.
  • Discovered compounds that can divert signals in melanoma cells so they undergo cell death.
  • Identified cell surface molecules that inhibit growth of glioblastoma.
  • Shown new ways to target “cancer stem cells,” key cells within a tumor that are responsible for its long-term growth and malignancy.

In the long run these discoveries promise to improve outcomes for patients with these devastating diseases.

Recent Developments


A new approach to treating brain cancer

A new experimental approach to treating a type of brain cancer called medulloblastoma has been developed by researchers at Sanford-Burnham. The method targets cancer stem cells—the cells that are critical for maintaining tumor growth—and halts their ability to proliferate by inhibiting enzymes that are essential for tumor progression.  Read More...

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