Microenvironment and Tumor Niches

The theory of stem cells is based on the existence of some highly tumorigenic cells with the properties of normal stem cells, i.e. capable of self-renewal and giving birth (by asymmetric division) to cancer cells.

This idea of stem cells is of therapeutic interest. If the tumour cells are targeted the tumour will regress effectively, but the stem cells will not be affected because they are generally very chemo- or radio-resistant and we will inevitably be faced with a relapse. Targeting cancer stem cells makes it possible to prevent metastases and, above all, limit tumour growth.

The projects concentrating on this theme aim to isolate these cancer stem cells from a certain number of tumours, try to characterise them (one of the great difficulties at the moment is effectively that it is not known exactly what they are), to identify markers and abnormal channels, and then try to use targeted therapies on these abnormal channels.

One of the great assets of the Grand Ouest is that of the example of gliomas; obtaining cancer stem cells from isolated tumours in a known process. Furthermore there are some excellent technical support centres that enable these to be characterised. Another specific characteristic lies in the ability of certain teams to study the role of the stem cells in the immune system, just as these teams are able to do for mesenchymal stem cells.

Other teams are working on apoptosis and finally others have wide experience in the study of tumour niches. As a result of all this expertise, one may hope that it will be possible to identify the markers for abnormal channels and thus develop therapeutic strategies and clinical trials.