25 Feb Radiation Kills Cancer Cells, But May Also Protect Some Tumor Stem Cells That Can Spread
MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Jennifer Sims-Mourtada, Ph.D.
Senior Rsearch Scientist
Director of Translational Breast Cancer Research
Center for Translational Cancer Research
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?
Response: Cancer stem cells are resistant cancer cells that are able to continuously grow and are very resistant to radiation and chemotherapy. Cancer stem cells can also escape to the blood stream and travel to another site causing metastasis.
MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?
Response: In this study we show that cancer stem cells depend on radiation induced inflammatory responses to survive radiation. Additionally we show that activation of IL-6-STAT3 pathway after radiation can make even non-cancer stem cells look like and behave as cancer stem cells. Thus any cell that survives radiation in the presence of certain inflammatory signals may be converted to a cancer stem cell.
MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?
Response: Although radiation kills tumor cells, it can also activate inflammatory responses that may protect some tumor cells. Co-treatment with anti-inflammatory agents such as inhibitors to the IL-6 STAT 3 pathway may sensitize cancer stem cells to radiation induced death, and may prevent generation of new cancer stem cancer stem cells and improve outcomes in triple negative breast cancer.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?
Response: Agents inhibiting the IL-6-STAT3 pathway are currently in clinical trials for breast cancer. Future work should focus on understanding radiation-induced inflammation in the context of both the immune response and tumor cells, as radiation induced inflammation can activate anti-tumor immunity as well as killing tumor cells. Some studies suggest that inhibition of IL-6 STAT3 signaling may also improve anti-tumor immunity, and thus these agents may target cancer cells by multiple mechanisms. It will be important to understand how these agents work to select which patients will respond to inhibition of this pathway and which ones will not.
MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Response: This is the good and the bad of radiation. We know radiation induced inflammation can help the immune system to kill tumor cells — that’s good — but also it can protect cancer stem cells in some cases, and that’s bad. What’s exciting about these findings is we’re learning more and more that the environment the tumor is in – its microenvironment – is very important. Historically, research has focused on the genetic defects in the tumor cells. We’re now also looking at the larger microenvironment and its contribution to cancer.
There are no disclosures to report
Kimberly M. Arnold et al, Radiation induces an inflammatory response that results in STAT3-dependent changes in cellular plasticity and radioresistance of breast cancer stem-like cells, International Journal of Radiation Biology (2019).
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