Belgian Researchers Identify Cells That Initiate Tumor Formation

genetic mutations
Belgian researchers identify cells that initiate tumor formation Belgian researchers identify cells that initiate tumor formation (image: National Cancer Institute / Wikimedia Commons)

Although many genes that suffer mutations and lead to the development of various types of cancer have been identified in recent years, the cells that initiate the formation of tumors after the accumulation of these genetic mutations are still unknown, say experts in the field.

Through genetic lineage tracing experiments on mice that allow the expression or deletion of genes related to the emergence of tumors in specific cell lineages, researchers from the Free University of Brussels (ULB), Belgium have advanced the identification of cell lineages that give rise to certain types of cancer, such as skin cancer.

Some of the most recent results were presented by Cédric Blanpain, ULB professor in a talk given Monday (10/08) at FAPESP Week Belgium.

“We have traced the cellular origins of the skin cancers most frequently found in humans and made important advances. My laboratory was the first in the world to identify the stages of cellular transition that occur during the progression of skin cancer,” Blanpain said.

One of the discoveries made by the group led by Blanpain in recent years was that some types of cancer, such as skin cancer, have cells with characteristics of stem cells – those capable of giving rise to other cells and performing an important role in cell replacement and tissue regeneration after injury.

By using different approaches, the Belgian researchers now plan to advance the understanding of the mechanisms that regulate the function of cancer-causing stem cells during tumor growth and relapse after therapy.

“Understanding the mechanisms that regulate the function of the cancer-causing stem cells is important for developing new forms of treatment,” he said.

Blanpain’s discoveries regarding cancer-causing stem cells have led ULB to announce the establishment of a biotechnology spin-off named ChromaCure, whose mission is to discover new therapies to fight cancer.

The start-up received an initial investment of 17 million euros from investors in Belgium and the United States, and more than 3.5 million euros this past September from Wallonia, one of the three administrative regions and one of the federated entities of Belgium.

The company plans to launch a program to trace potential molecules that could result in the development of new medicines to treat some types of cancer.

“Our laboratory has already identified some targets that play an important role in tumor progression and in various types of cancer,” Blanpain stated. “The idea is to use the next six years to identify drugs that inhibit those targets.”

Personalized Oncology

As a result of advances in genomics in recent decades, leading to the sequencing of mutagenic genes related to the development of cancer, the disease has now entered the era of personalized oncology, through which it is possible to assess whether a patient has a hereditary predisposition to cancer, said Dirce Maria Carraro, researcher at the A. C. Camargo Cancer Center, who also spoke at the event.

“In recent years, new mutations in genes associated with the development of cancer have been discovered, revealing the frequency of gene mutation recently associated with the disease, and the identification of new candidate genes associated with hereditary syndromes that predispose one to cancer,” she stated.

The group of researchers led by Carraro is conducting a study to monitor the therapeutic response of patients with renal tumors, colorectal, lung, skin, and head and neck cancer, and rare tumors. At least 100 patients having each type of tumor will participate in the study.

“We wanted to assess the resistance those types of cancer have to chemotherapy or targeted therapy,” Carraro said.

Source : By Elton Alisson, in Brussels (Belgium) | Agência FAPESP