Close up of researcher working with samples in a lab

Research projects

Stopping cancer coming back by better understanding how cancer stem cells behave

Dr Silvia Fre
Project period
Feb 2024 - Jan 2027
Research Institute
Institut Curie
Cancer types
General cancer research
Award amount

Project aim

Dr Silvia Fre and her team are exploring a type of cells called cancer stem cells, to better understand how they contribute to forming tumours and how we can keep them in check.

Hope for the future

Even when cancer treatment goes well, cancer can sometimes come back. This recurrence can happen if treatment does not destroy or remove all of the cancer cells. Researchers have found that certain cells in a tumour, called cancer stem cells, have the potential to regrow a tumour after surgical removal and therapy.

Dr Silvia Fre and her team study the role of cancer stem cells in cancer development and recurrence.  They hope to reveal clues about how to treat cancer and how to stop it from coming back. By exploring breast and prostate cancer, this project could lead to advances not only in the early identification of these tumours, but also in the discovery of new therapeutic targets.


An image of tumouroids developed from tissue from salivary gland cancer.

Meet the scientist

Outside the lab, Dr Fre enjoys being outdoors, reading and spending time with friends. Her favorite activities are dancing, skiing and hiking. She also loves to travel and discover new cultures. She is fluent in four languages and would like to learn more.

The science

The cells in your body often divide to make new cells, as part of keeping your body healthy. When skin cells divide they can only make more skin cells, and likewise for most of your cells. Stem cells are different though, because they are not yet specialised and have the ability to mature into different types of cells. This is how cells in your bone marrow can create important blood cells and immune system cells.

Tumours also contain stem cells which are crucial for their growth and play an important role in tumour recurrence and metastasis. Cancer stem cells are therefore a promising target for cancer treatments. However, cancer stem cells closely resemble normal stem cells in our bodies, making it difficult to design therapies targeting specifically these cells in tumours while sparing the normal stem cells. Dr Silvia Fre wants to use cutting-edge techniques to help us better understand the specific features and behaviours of cancer stem cells.

Organoids are “mini-organs” grown in the lab that resemble the tissues inside our bodies, and ‘tumouroids’ are similar tools grown from tumours. Dr Fre and her team will use organoids and tumouroids to unravel the molecular mechanisms essential for cancer stem cell survival. Time-lapse microscopy will be used to explore how cancer stem cells behave and interact with surrounding cells. This project will reveal the role of cancer stem cells and will be a stepping stone towards new ways to diagnose and treat cancer.

Dr Silvia Fre
This project should provide us with fundamental information on how to eliminate cancer stem cells, which will allow doctors to propose treatments preventing tumour recurrence and metastasis.

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