Exploiting the Epigenome of Cancer Stem Cells for Precision Medicine
Glioblastoma is an incurable brain cancer that affects both adults and children. Treatment currently consists of surgery followed by a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Although aggressive, this approach increases the average patient’s survival rate to just over a year.
The failure to date to find a better treatment is in part caused by the extreme variability of these cancer cells. Some of these cells hijack normal stem cell self-renewal programs and contribute to tumor growth. In glioblastoma, these cells (called cancer stem cells) are resistant to current treatments, so targeting them is virtually impossible.
As Canada Research Chair in Brain Cancer Epigenomics, Dr. Marco Gallo is identifying the molecular links between the epigenome (the chemical modifications that can tell the genome what to do), 3D genome architecture, and cancer stem cell programs in glioblastoma. He and his research team hope to do this using in vitro (cells in a petri dish) and in vivo (cells in a mouse) functional analyses and next-generation sequencing approaches to cancer stem cell cultures and xenografts (surgical grafts of tumor tissue from a patient to a mouse).
By identifying new molecular determinants of epigenomic landscapes and 3D genome architecture in cancer stem cells from glioblastoma patients, Gallo and his team hope to generate "epigenomic barcodes." These barcodes will allow for precision medicine by matching a patient’s 3D genome architecture to epigenetic drugs, with the ultimate goal of obliterating the cancer stem cell population.