Komen Foundation open to funding human embryonic stem cell research

Interestingly, the Komen Foundation appears open to funding human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research.

The latest report from Science includes a quote from Komen that denies any changes in funding policy for research and suggests they have not ruled out funding such research:

Contrary to circulating online reports, Komen has not “de-funded” any grantee based on human embryonic stem cell research conducted at their institution.

The Komen Foundation was at the center of a firestorm of criticism in the past week over its decision to de-fund Planned Parenthood. After a few days of scathing criticism, Komen reportedly reversed its decision and at least for a time will continue to provide some financial support for Planned Parenthood. How long that will last and the true commitment of Komen to Planned Parenthood remain important open questions.

The Komen Foundation also support breast cancer research as well of course.

What does hESCR have to do with breast cancer and why should Komen continue such funding?

Let’s go over the reasoning.

Like many if not most other cancers, breast cancer has a stem cell component called “cancer stem cells” or CSC.

CSC are thought to be the true drivers of cancer formation and may be essential for maintenance of tumors too.

Kill the CSC and you kill the tumor.

However, most treatments like radiation and chemotherapy paradoxically leave CSC behind and the CSC are thought to be the #1 cause of therapeutic resistance and cancer recurrence.

As it happens CSC, including those from breast, share many molecular attributes with normal stem cells including hESC. Thus, we have a lot to learn about breast and other cancers including prostate, lung, and brain cancer (just to name a few) from knowledge gained from hESC.

Intriguingly, many of the most important genes that make hESC tick are the same ones that turn fibroblasts into those extremely exciting iPS cells (after which this blog is named) and these same genes also are busily at work in CSC.

Some examples of these stem/cancer genes that my be in essence “double agents” include Oct4, Sox2, Nanog, Klf4, and one of the most potent known human cancer-causing genes and the focus of my lab, Myc (read a nice summary of Myc’s role in stem cells and cancer here).

We don’t know for sure what these hESC genes are doing in CSC, but you can be sure they are up to no good.

Most of us believe that these stemness genes endow CSC with properties that make them especially deadly. For this reason, studying hESC has great relevance not only to breast cancer, but also cancer more generally.

Komen’s openness to funding hESC research could make a real difference in the battle against breast cancer.

2 Comments


  1. Thank you for this explination on Cancer and HESC. Recently the new CEO of Geron has said the company lost no synergies between their Cancer programs and their HESC program when he defunded the HESC programs. Long time Shareholders knew he was not telling analysts the truth and you have now cofirmed it. Geron has been reducing their research capabilities while paying out huge bonuses to higher management for putting huge doubt on the true value of their IP. Shareholders need someone like you on the BOD who will look out for their intrests in advancing the IP and can explain the need to continue these programs.


  2. @Taylor, what you say about Geron decreasing their research capabilities with their dropping of the stem cells work is true, there is no conspiracy behind it. It is a very clear business decision to put their limited funding into the projects that are closest to bringing clear returns, namely the cancer projects. The pathway for these is clear because they are not so innovative. Such is the nature of commercial research – money is limited and you have to demonstrate to the shareholders that you will be bringing in revenues in a time frame they can envision. The overall commercial gain may be less in the long run, but if you run out of money before you get to market it does not do any good either.

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