My name is Maria Athanassiou, I am the founder of epiSCI and I am a cancer biologist and cancer survivor.
The problem that epiSCI wants to solve is that current therapies kill the bulk of the cells but leave the seeds and roots of cancer behind leading to 90% of all cancer deaths. Our solution to drug discovery for the oncology market is to kill not just the bulk of the tumor but also its root and seeds, the cancer stem cells reversing the cancer mortality trend. Even better we can kill cancer stem cells without killing the normal stem cells. Drugs that are bad fail fast.
Most of us when we hear stem cells we think of cells that come from a fetus. But in fact stem cells exist in our bodies to give rise to young cells that make up our tissues and our organs. Did you know that an 80 year old man has a liver that is a few months old and that most of the cells in your gut are only four days old? The stem cells in our body work really hard to give us young organs as we age. They are our Dr. Jekyll, on the job of keeping us healthy and mending our injuries.
Within their proper environment normal stem cells are immortal. While some stem cells, like blood stem cells and stem cells that are called "mesenchymal" have been used for years in the lab, most of the stem cells that repair and maintain our internal organs have long refused scientific efforts to live outside the body, in the lab. Normal stem cells simply don't like being taken out of their nests, what scientists call their "niche".
epiSCI is creating ways to keeps human cells in culture happy, to build a home away from home for human cells and not just any cells but the stem cells within our organs.
Within the organ, the stem cells appear immortal, in that they are always there, in more or less constant numbers. To a cancer biologist the word immortal is scary. Because it means cells are on their way to become cancer. In fact, many cancers begin when our stem cells get “sick”. Worst of all the seeds of death within cancer, the cancer stem cells are like normal stem cells that have moved to the dark side. Stem cells switch from being Dr Jekyll for us to becoming the Mr Hyde who threatens to kill us.
There are other companies who have paved the way want to kill cancer stem cells, like epiSCI. Yet epiSCI differs because we think that one cannot really know what a cancer stem cell is and how to kill it, unless we understand what a normal stem cells is or does and how the two cells are different. We cannot find where Mr Hyde hides unless we know he lives in the house of Dr. Jekyl.
epiSCI will unmask the identity of both Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde for the pharmaceutical industry and expose what makes one to turn to the other. In the end Mr Hyde dies.