$900K grant will advance stem cell research in colon cancer

Senior Research Scientist Bruce Boman, M.D., Ph.D., MSPH, FACP, at the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute of Christiana Care Health System, has received a $916,577 grant award from the Lisa Dean Moseley Foundation to further stem cell research into the origins of colon cancer.

The three-year grant will enable Dr. Boman and his team at the Center for Translational Cancer Research at Christiana Care to continue building on their innovative discovery that stem cell overpopulation is the mechanism that drives cancer development and growth in the colon. This knowledge could ultimately aid in developing targeted and more effective cancer treatment strategies.

“We know that stem cell overpopulation drives colon tumor development,” Dr. Boman explained, “but we don’t completely understand which dysregulated mechanisms cause the overpopulation.”

Support from the Lisa Dean Moseley Foundation will allow further investigation into the understanding of which dysregulated cellular mechanisms cause the stem cell overpopulation.

“Partnership with Dr. Boman and his team at the Center for Translational Cancer Research holds great promise for a better understanding of how stem cells play a role in cancer development,” said William J. Martin, the secretary-treasurer of the Moseley Foundation. “This work is directly in line with the Foundation’s mission to support stem cell research and promises to accelerate scientific progress toward better cancer treatments.”

Dr. Boman’s team will take a multidisciplinary approach drawn from tumor biology, cancer genetics, pathology, medical oncology and molecular biology to discover how stem cells are regulated in the normal healthy colon and how gene mutations contribute to stem cell overpopulation in tumors. Specifically, they will study how inactivation of the adenomatous polyposis coli (APC) tumor suppressor gene leads to stem cell overpopulation that drives colon cancer development and growth.

Earlier this year Dr. Boman published findings that the retinoic acid signaling pathway acts to induce differentiation of colon cancer stem cells and reduce cancer stem cell overpopulation. Dr. Boman’s findings suggest that treatment with retinoid drugs, which are derived from vitamin A, could provide a therapeutic strategy to selectively target cancer stem cells and decrease the number of highly resistant cancer cells.

“Findings from our proposed research project should provide a rationale to ultimately test glucagon-like peptide agonists as targeted anti-cancer stem cell therapeutics in human clinical oncology trials,” Dr. Boman said.

“The Moseley Foundation’s multi-year grant will spur the momentum of our cancer research program with support for a key research group investigating cancer stem cells,” said Nicholas J. Petrelli, M.D., Bank of America endowed medical director of the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute. “As Delaware’s leader in cancer treatment, genetics and clinical trials, we continue to seek opportunities to integrate basic cancer research into clinical practice that ultimately translates into advanced treatment for our patients.”

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer related deaths in the United States, equally affecting both men and women. Each year there are 130,000 new cases in the United States, and 40 percent of those affected will die from their disease.

Conventional research over the last 50 years has been that tumors undergo a series of genetic mutations that lead to the unchecked growth of tumors and their progression to metastatic cancer. Traditional therapies designed to kill the bulk of cancer tumor cells continue to fall short of a cure for advanced, drug resistant colon cancers.

“Our thinking has shifted to the insight that cancers originate in tissue stem cells through dysregulation or malfunction of the self-renewal process and that cancer stem cells drive tumor growth,” said Dr. Boman. “It follows that the optimal way to treat cancer – especially advanced cancer – is to eliminate cancer stem cells.”