September 29, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

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.

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