Entirety of Colon Cancer Cells, Not Just Subsets, Can Coordinately Adopt Evolutionarily Conserved Embryonic Survival Program to Slow Growth & Conserve Energy Under Stress of Chemotherapy; Autophagy Inhibitor Can Disrupt This Cancer Survival Strategy

In research published in the January 7, 2020 issue of Cell, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre (Toronto) Scientist Catherine O'Brien (photo), MD, PhD, and team discovered that, when under threat, all cancer cells--rather than just a subset--have the ability to transition into this protective state, where the cells "rest" until the threat, or chemotherapy, is removed. It is the first study to identify that cancer cells hijack an evolutionary conserved program to survive chemotherapy. Furthermore, the researchers show that novel therapeutic strategies aimed at specifically targeting cancer cells in this slow-dividing state can prevent cancer regrowth. "The tumor is acting like a whole organism, able to go into a slow-dividing state, conserving energy to help it survive," says Dr. O'Brien, who is also an Associate Professor in the Department of Surgery at the University of Toronto. "There are examples of animals entering into a reversible and slow-dividing state to withstand harsh environments. It appears that cancer cells have craftily co-opted this same state for their survival benefit." The Cell article is titled “Colorectal Cancer Cells Enter a Diapause-Like DTP State to Survive Chemotherapy.” (See graphical abstract of article at end.) Dr. Aaron Schimmer, Director of the Research Institute and Senior Scientist at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, notes that this research shows that cancer cells hibernate, like "bears in winter." He adds: "We never actually knew that cancer cells were like hibernating bears. This study also tells us how to target these sleeping bears so they don't hibernate and wake up to come back later, unexpectedly. I think this will turn out to be an important cause of drug resistance, and will explain something we did not have a good understanding of previously."
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