[ See the Consano story by Cathy Marshall (KGW, NBC Portland Channel 8) for additional information.
Childhood muscle cancer is extremely difficult to cure when the cancer cells have spread throughout the body. Our preliminary data suggest that this cancer might actually use our very own stem cells and normal cell-to-cell communication system to metastasize. We believe tumor cells 'talk' to muscle stem cells and convince them to secrete growth factors that enable tumor cells to spread to new sites in the body. In fact, it also appears that tumor cells fuse to muscle stem cells - more than just cell-to-cell talk, and a rather unexpected 'hostile merger'. We have identified a specific receptor that appears to be responsible for this effect. With a blocking antibody to the receptor we can already stop the spreading of tumors to lymph nodes or to the lungs in mouse experiments. While the same kind of blocking antibodies have had successful safety testing in asthma studies by pharmaceutical companies, we have one last critical series of experiments to conduct before partnering to apply our results to the clinic: we must test whether fusion of tumor cells to normal stem cells is the key event, or whether metastasis results when tumor cells and normal stem cells simply cross-talk without merging/fusing. Either possibility exists, but would change the way the intervention is taken to clinical trials. We are seeking to raise $19,634 for the key experiments (1) to observe the time course of tumor cells fusing with normal stem cells, and (2) to test whether fused cells are more or less capable of establishing tumors than mixed but unfused cells. This experiment can be completed within 6 months of raising project funds, and the results will be not only sent for publication, but also shared with (i) the Children’s Oncology Group clinical trial committee for rhabdomyosarcoma and (ii) a major pharmaceutical company with the appropriate therapeutic antibody that might be used in a clinical trial for children with rhabdomyosarcoma.
Why is this important?
We believe our finding of how tumor cells actually use our own stem cells to metastasize is a largely new paradigm that may be relevant to cancers of adults and children alike. Thus, our study begins with the solid tumor of muscle, rhabdomyosarcoma, but may spark similar studies (and similar kinds of treatment) for other tumors if our hypothesis is correct.
Who will benefit?
In the short term, we specifically seek to overcome the challenges to being disease-free for children with metastatic muscle cancer. In the long term, we hope that every form of rhabdomyosarcoma will become universally survivable by this type of approach.