Cancer Stem Cells

A seminal Canadian discovery demonstrated that cancer stem cells are a significant reason for high relapse rates after cancer treatments. In recognition of this, the Stem Cell Network has invested heavily finding ways to target and attack them.

Cancer is the leading cause of death in Canada. Each year, approximately 200,000 Canadians are diagnosed with the deadly disease (based on 2014 figures). Because of its prevalence and immense cost, cancer was a major focus of many Stem Cell Network projects from its inception in 2001, through the Cancer Stem Cell Drug Discovery Project.

story_cancerStemCells-1Cancer stem cells, also referred to as tumour-initiating cells, are believed to initiate the growth of tumours. Improving our understanding of tumour-initiating cells and their contribution to the genesis of cancer is a major direction in stem cell research. Researchers are interested in identifying the cellular properties of tumour-initiating cells, and how to target and kill them without harming healthy stem cells. Owing in part to our long history of research in the origins of cancer, Canada is a heavy hitter in this field, and many prominent SCN researchers have helped to ensure that this legacy of excellence will continue for decades to come.

Along with Canada, the state of California is also home to some of the world’s most well known cancer stem cell scientists. The Stem Cell Network took part in several Canada-California Strategic Innovation Partnership (CCSIP) Cancer Stem Cell Workshops in 2006 and 2007, which laid the groundwork for increased collaboration.

Out of those CCSIP workshops, researchers from Canada and California agreed on the need to work together—inspired in part by the Stem Cell Network’s innovative and collaborative research programs. The result was the Cancer Stem Cell Consortium (CSCC), created in 2007 by SCN and several partnered organizations. The CSCC went on to form a partnership with the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine to co-ordinate an international research strategy in the field, which also led to $100-million in funding from the governments of Canada and California.


  • The Cancer Stem Cell Consortium stemmed from a SCN project to investigate cancer stem cells. In 2008 the Consortium announced a $100 million dollar investment in the field
  • SCN projects led to four clinical trials, with several others in development
  • Dr. John Dick won the 2007 Till & McCulloch Award for developing a new mouse model to study human acute leukemia

  • Dr. Connie Eaves won the 2006 Till & McCulloch Award for research on breast cancer stem cells
  • Shlush LI, Zandi S, Mitchell A, Chen WC, Brandwein JM, Gupta V, Kennedy JA, Schimmer AD, Schuh AC, Yee KW, McLeod JL, Doedens M, Medeiros JJ, Marke R, Kim HJ, Lee K, McPherson JD, Hudson TJ; HALT Pan-Leukemia Gene Panel Consortium, Brown AM, Yousif F, Trinh QM, Stein LD, Minden MD, Wang JC, Dick JE. “Identification of pre-leukaemic haematopoietic stem cells in acute leukaemia.” Nature. 2014 Feb 20;506(7488):328-33.

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