Metastasis is the principal cause of cancer death, and for most tumor types staging, prognostication and therapy is inadequate. Hence, new knowledge on how to prevent metastasis and identification of predictive markers is among the most important challenges in cancer research. Our strategy is to investigate biological mechanisms involved in the metastatic process and thereby identify target molecules to be utilized in early detection, prognosis prediction and development of improved anti-metastat ic therapy.
Metastastatic spread is a complex process involving factors inherent to the cancer cells and to the surrounding normal cells. Tumor heterogeneity and differences between tumors of individual patients with the same diagnosis contrib ute to the difficulty in developing anti-metastatic therapy. Hence, in the search for more personalized treatment a prerequisite is to identify new predictive markers and therapeutic targets. A small population of cancer cells is hypothesized to initiate and sustain tumor growth, implying also that metastases originate from such stem cells and that disseminated tumor cells (DTC) express stem cell related markers. It is a major challenge to characterize such rare cells in a large population of other cells, but we have developed means to isolate rare cells from body fluids and solid tumors that will be utilized in the project.
Detection and characterization of DTC in bone marrow or in sentinel lymph nodes may be used as surrogate marker for th erapy response, for selecting patients for targeted and neo-adjuvant therapy, and possibly for intra-operative sentinel node evaluation in breast cancer patients.
By utilizing cell lines, in vivo models and clinical material in comprehensive molecular stu dies of biological mechanisms involved in the metastatic process, the project has a unique possibility to identify new molecules for translation into diagnostic and prognostic markers and therapeutic targets.