10 September 2014 NIH Grant for Breast Cancer Research

Scheme of Raman spectroscopy on cells

ICFO receives NIH Grant to study breast cancer through an innovative technique. ICFO researchers Dr. Pablo Loza, chief of the SLN laboratory at ICFO, and Dr. Mónica Marro, in collaboration with the University of Kansas Medical Center (UKMC), have recently received a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH, USA) for the project entitled “Elucidating cellular heterogeneity among cancer stem cells by Raman Spectroscopy”, aimed at characterizing and eradicating aggressive breast cancer stem cells.

Founded in 1887, the NIH’s mission is to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behaviour of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability.

The project’s ultimate goal is to identify and eradicate the most resistant, dormant, and aggressive breast Tumor Initiating Cells (TICs) in order to prevent cancer relapse. TICs have been isolated and characterized by the expression of unique surface markers. However, a methodology for isolation and characterization of TICs based on combined extracellular and Intracellular Molecular Profiles (IMP) has not been evaluated. Raman Tweezer Spectroscopy (RTS) will be combined with advanced mathematical tools to quantify characteristic IMPs of TICs non-invasively with high specificity. RTS permits sorting cells according to their IMPs.

Breast cancer cell heterogeneity may be the underlying cellular and molecular mechanism for drug resistance and poor patient clinical outcome. Therefore, the development of this new technique has led to a significant advance over previous technologies that relied only on the expression of unique extracellular surface molecules for cell separation. The combination of this new technology with previous methods of cell separation is expected to enable an in-depth knowledge of the most aggressive tumor cells and facilitate the design of anti-cancer therapies for their eradication.