The American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) has selected Margarita Gutova, M.D., to give an oral presentation at its 97th annual meeting. Gutova, a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Karen Aboody, M.D., assistant professor in the divisions of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation (HCT) and Neurosciences, will present her abstract, titled "Identification and characterization of migrating cancer stem cells," at a mini-symposium on tumor biology. She also received an AACR Scholar-in-Training Award to support her attendance at the meeting.
“I am very proud and excited about Margarita’s research accomplishments. To have her work recognized and to be selected for both the oral presentation and the Scholar-in-Training Award is outstanding," said Aboody. The AACR presents Scholar-in-Training Awards based on the merit of submitted scientific abstracts; Gutova's abstract ranked eighth among applicants. Gutova’s studies have identified a small subpopulation of cells with "stem/progenitor-like properties" within small cell lung cancer (SCLC) tumors. These cells express high levels of urokinase plasminogen activator receptor (uPAR), a protein known to contribute to the development of invasiveness in several cancers, including ovarian, prostate and brain. In normal cells, uPAR plays important roles in immune response, tissue regeneration and angiogenesis (the formation of arteries and veins for blood supply), but in malignant cells, disregulated over-expression of uPAR contributes to tumor growth and spread (metastasis). Gutova has isolated uPAR over-expressing cells from human SCLC tumors. These are the most aggressive type of lung cancer and develop metastases quickly, primarily spreading to bone marrow and brain.
With the hypothesis that uPAR is a marker for the most invasive tumor cell type in SCLC, Gutova is investigating four characteristics that would implicate these cells as potential "cancer stem cells." These include the ability to evade apoptosis (programmed cell death), unlimited ability to replicate, potential for tissue remodeling with invasion, and formation of distant metastases. These cells, unlike SCLC cells that do not express uPAR, are able to proliferate to form small colonies of cells in experimental assays and to form tumors when injected into engrafted normal human lung tissue in SCID-hu mice. Human SCLC uPAR-expressing cells also metastasize away from the primary tumor site to form tumors in mouse lung and liver.
Speaking about her long-term research goals, Gutova said, "If we hope to improve treatments for cancer, we must first identify the most aggressive subpopulation of cells within the tumor, and target those cells for intervention."
Gutova initiated her current studies while a postdoctoral fellow under Chu-Chih Shih, assistant professor, Division of Hematology & HCT, and now collaborates with Assistant Research Scientist Josip Najbauer, Ph.D., also in Aboody's laboratory. Shih developed the SCID-hu mouse model she uses.
Aboody’s laboratory currently receives funding from the Neidorf Family Foundation, the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation, the Stop Cancer Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.
This year’s AACR Annual Meeting will take place April 1 to 5 in Washington, D.C. The conference draws more than 15,000 participants from the cancer research community.