The lab of Jochen Maurer focuses on the cell of origin and the malignant progression of mammary cancers. The group isolates and characterizes cancer stem cells in breast cancer and investigates molecular mechanisms of invasion and metastasis. The aim is to use cancer stem cells from patient tissue to understand their biology and identify new treatment options targeted at the driver of a given tumor. Therefore the lab uses molecular and genetic in vitro approaches, cell models and animal transplantation, as well as human tumor material and patients' data.
1. Role of EMT and cellular motility in cancer stem cells isolated from triple negative breast cancer
Triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) represents a highly aggressive subtype of breast cancer and is characterized by a significantly higher frequency of visceral as well as central nervous system metastases than the other subtypes. Due to this clinical behavior TNBC shows a poor prognosis profile with significantly lower recurrence free and overall survival rates, respectively. Cancer stem cells (CSCs) are hypothesized to play a crucial role for the tumorbiological behavior of TNBC with the high metastatic potential as well as the observed metastatic pattern. The goal of the project will be the isolation of CSCs from TNBCs and the characterization of specific molecular profiles which account for their metastatic behavior including the organ tropism during tumor progression.
2. Differentiation therapy on breast cancer stem cells
We are now focusing on differentiation therapy to potentially treat tumors which are driven by cancer stem cells. The idea is that whatever cell type was the origin of the CSC, it should be possible to “push” the CSC back into the normal process of differentiation. Upon entering a differentiation program, a CSC would stop being a tumor driver and become harmless tissue. The fact that this approach does not involve directly killing cells, might make a therapy much less harmful for the patient, compared to chemotherapy. Our lab utilizes screening methods and biochemical experiments to identify agents that tip the scale from uncontrolled stem cell proliferation to differentiation. As basis for these experiments we use primary patient CSCs to address cancer as close to the patient as possible.
3. Drug screening on pancreatic cancer stem cells
The isolation and characterization of pancreatic cancer stem cells is of the utmost importance, because it will facilitate the identification of new markers, possibly very early prognostic factors. It will help with the development of new drugs targeting the CSCs in the tumor and so stopping tumor progression.
We would like to use newly isolated patient pancreatic CSCs as a basis for in vitro drug screening. We found already in breast cancer that primary isolated cells reacted differently to chemotherapy than breast cancer cell lines established years ago. Nevertheless these cell lines are the primary source of drug testing in recent years. Our hypothesis argues that primary patient derived cells are closer to the tumor of origin and therefore optimally suited to test efficacy of a therapeutic before giving it to the same patient.