Cancer Program

Program leader: Mario Suva, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Pathology, Harvard Medical School and Assistant Molecular Pathologist, Pathology, Massachusetts General Hospital

Researchers in the HSCI Cancer Program are working to establish the crucial differences between normal stem cells and their cancerous counterparts.

The goal of the program is to develop therapies that can eradicate cancer cells – and their entire lineage – without harming healthy tissues.

This ambitious goal demands a profound understanding of how, precisely, a normal stem cell becomes a cancer cell. To that end, some of the world’s foremost cancer researchers are collaborating across Harvard's schools and hospitals to:

  • Identify the critical genes and pathways that distinguish cancer from normal stem cells, and
  • Pinpoint which of these – in what combination – could serve as candidate targets for therapy.

What we have achieved so far:

HSCI Cancer Program scientists have:

  • Isolated normal stem cell populations from intestine and colon tissue, and characterised their molecular profiles extensively
  • Identified and investigated key pathways operating in lung-tumor-propagating cells
  • Demonstrated what factors are required for leukemia stem cell development and survival
  • Clarified the role of a specific mutation that controls signaling in tumor-propagating cells in human pancreatic tumors.
  • Developed imaging technologies for visualizing single tumor-initiating stem cells in the laboratory.

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