Department: Medical Biophysics, University of Toronto
The cancer stem cell (CSC) model of tumor development and progression states that only a subset of cells within tumors have the potential to extensively self-renew and give rise to other tumor cells. As in other tissues, the stem cells are a minority of the whole organ, and are the only cells that can maintain tumor growth indefinitely. The self renewal properties of CSCs are thus the real driving force behind tumor growth. The identification of markers that allow the prospective isolation of CSCs from whole tumor tissues is an essential step towards understanding the molecular mechanisms that drive CSC self-renewal. My research is focused primarily on identifying such markers, and characterizing the purified CSC with respect to the signaling pathways and/or microenvironmental factors that influence their self-renewal in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) and ovarian cancer. Such studies should allow us to develop therapies that target the CSC, either directly by interfering with their self-renewal ability, or indirectly by targeting their microenvironment.