Exploring how stem cells help cancer evade chemotherapy
Aim of the research
Dr Vincenzo Giambra and his team are trying to understand how a certain gene controls resistance and recurrence in leukaemia. Uncovering this mechanism could provide new ways of treating leukaemia that has returned after successful therapy.
Meet the scientist
Vincenzo Giambra was born in San Cataldo, a small town of Sicily in South Italy. During his PhD he moved to New York, and in 2007 he started his postdoctoral training in Vancouver, where he worked for 10 years. 10 years later he returned to Italy as a principal investigator and set up his own lab at the Institute “Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza. He has two kids, Martin (7) and Ruben (2), two 'crazy' dogs, Tatà and Floopy and two cute cats, Clementino and Minù. Asides from spending time with his family (human and animal), he loves to listen to jazz music, hiking in mountain trails and traveling around the world.
More about the research project
T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (T-ALL) is a blood cancer that affects both children and adults. Current therapies successfully treat about 4 out of 5 of children, but only 2 out of 5 adults are as successful. Some patients can achieve disease free status, only to develop a second cancer further down the line. This is thought to be because not all cells behave in the same manner and have the same properties. There are special cancer cells – cancer stem cells – which have the ability to recreate the entire cancer and sustain tumour growth.
Researchers found that a critical gene – called EZH2 – is a kind of master regulator that can alter properties of leukaemic cells. Dr Giambra and his team are now exploring how EZH2 controls cancer cells to evade chemotherapy and resurface at a later time. They believe that EZH2 might play a role in cancer stem cells more generally and could potentially benefit a wide range of cancers.
Funding basic science is definitely an investment in the future. Discoveries of new concepts and ideas are necessary to generate more effective and innovative anti-cancer therapeutics.