An assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, Christopher Plaisier, and a student of his, Samantha O’Connor, are working side by side in a lab to discover new information about the stem cell life cycle. Their research has the potential to lead to great advancements in the treatment of brain cancer
Plaisier and O’Connor were initially inspired when collaborating with two members of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Patrick Paddison and Dr. Anoop Patel. The new team worked together and encountered something unfamiliar when analyzing brain stem cell data using a technique called single-cell RNA sequencing. Plasier recounts the discovery, “That data turned out to be pretty amazing. It mapped out into this beautiful circular pattern that we identified as all of the different phases of the cell cycle.” From this information, O’Connor developed a new tool, ccAF, that represented the teamwork of the two organizations. It provides a higher quality look at the growth of stem cells and is capable of identifying genes that record growth. O’Connor says, “Our classifier gets deeper into the cell cycle because there could be pieces we’re capturing that have important implications for disease.”
After using the ccAF on glioma tumors, the scientists found that most of the cells were in the Neural G0 (a state of dormancy) or G1 state, and as the tumor became more violent, less cells remained in the G0 state and the duplication process of cells became more rapid. They used this data while the results of patients with glioblastoma, an especially violent tumor, and found that those with higher Neural G0 levels were battling less agressive tumors. Additionally, they discovered a relatively shocking find: the dormancy of the Neural G0 state is independant of a tumors growth rate. Plaisier states, “That was an interesting finding from our results, that quiescence itself could be a different biological process. It’s also a potential point where we could look for new drug treatments. If we could push more cells into that quiescent state, the tumors would become less aggressive.”
The findings of Plaisier’s team have proved to be incredibly useful to future treatments. Instead of travelling down the usual route of killing cancerous cells, putting them in a dormant state could lead to more effective results with less side effects. With more study of biology and stem cell behavior, this method could end up being the most prominent in the future.