Like Dr. Jekyll turning into Mr. Hyde, when normal stem cells lose control of their function, carcinomas arise. Effective and safe oncology therapies must kill Mr. Hyde, while sparing Dr. Jekyll.

Our goal: 

epiSCI will address the problem of cancer mortality by eradicating the cancer stem cells without harming the normal stem cells our bodies need to repair damage and maintain young organs in aging bodies.

The problem: 

Every 15 seconds an American dies of cancer. Current cancer drugs kill the bulk of the tumor but fail to eradicate cancer stem cells, rare cells that are the roots and seeds of cancer. Resistant to therapy, cancer stem cells make cancer reappear, spread throughout the body and cause 90% of cancer deaths.

Even much heralded immunotherapies are not able to overcome drug resistance that occurs within a year of treatment. This is why, despite technological advances, a recent Harvard study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that in last fifty years, only a 1.2% improvement in patient outcomes has been achieved for advanced solid cancers, mostly due to the cessation of smoking. Whereas Gleevec represents the poster child of molecularly-based targeted therapies, which all other drugs hope to mimic, the disease it treats, chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), is a blood cancer and not a solid tumor. CML also unfortunately counts only 400 new cases a year, a far cry from the >500,000 annual US cancer deaths.  

But why are the numbers so daunting and the results so few? 95% of all cancers are cancers of our internal organs, called carcinomas. Until now, limited ability to study the normal human stem cells of our internal organs has impeded our understanding of how carcinomas arise and how to effectively eliminate them.

The epiSCI solution:  

epiSCI’s unique know-how on normal human stem cells allows us to study them in conditions as close as possible to those found in the human body. epiSCI also possesses know-how in improved study of cancer stem cells. 

Normal stem cells within our organs keep us young and alive by replenishing themselves and the rest of the cells in the organ and by repairing injuries. That’s why we have a four day-old gut in the body of an eighty year-old person. But like Dr. Jekyll turning into Mr. Hyde, when normal stem cells lose control of their function, carcinomas arise.

Normal, human, organ-resident stem cells are different than the embryonic, mesenchymal or induced pluripotent stem cells that are widely known to the public and used in research.

epiSCI has identified druggable pathways that make stem cells different from other healthy cells (differentiated cells). These pathways are also involved in generating carcinomas. The effects of both novel and investigational therapies along these pathways are of interest to epiSCI, as are novel drug delivery methods based on the molecules that distinguish normal and cancer stem cells, which are called novel biomarkers.

Scientists have long hypothesized that less than ten changes are required for a cell to become cancerous, but our current technological explosion in –omics studies (genomics, proteomics etc) is complicating the picture coming up with tens of thousands of genetic mutations and molecular differences.

epiSCI recognizes that normal stem cells and cancer cells share a unique metabolic profile that distinguishes them from all other cells in the body. epiSCI will leverage these metabolic similarities between stem cells and cancer to narrow in on what we believe will be the few changes that shift the normal stem cell to become cancer. The broken metabolism of the cancer cell may well be giving rise to a multitude of other changes.

We are particularly interested in targeting pathways related to hypoxia, heat shock factors, epigenetic control and cancer metabolism.


Scientist in the Lab