Stem Cell Biology Program

The NYU Cancer Stem Cell Biology Program focuses on the molecular and cellular mechanisms of cancer stem cells, cancer-initiating stem cells, and stem cells in their normal physiological environment. 

Stem cells are nascent cells with the potential to mature into various tissues of the body. The Helen and Martin Kimmel Center for Stem Cell Biology at NYU, established in January 2005, links faculty members from various basic science and clinical departments within the NYU School of Medicine who are working in some of the most exciting and promising areas of stem cell research. With a particular emphasis on translational and clinical research projects, the Kimmel Center crosses departmental and programmatic boundaries, with a focus on germ cell biology, neurobiology, immunology, dermatology, cardiology, and cancer biology. With the start of a new graduate and postdoctoral training program in Stem Cell Biology in 2011, the Center is committed to educating new, interdisciplinary generations of stem cell researchers.

Members of the Stem Cell Biology Program study stem cells in a variety of cellular and experimental contexts. They bring a wide spectrum of approaches, including genetic, biochemical, and in vivo imaging, to the study of stem cell behavior in normal and pathological processes.  Some areas of research include hematopoiesis, skin differentiation, neurogenesis, germline biology, epigenetics, and stem cell organ models, including prostate, heart, bone, and breast. A variety of animal model systems, including mammalian and invertebrate animal models, as well as in vitro systems such as embryonic stem cell culture, are used to relate findings in these systems to human cancer stem cell systems. In translating the understanding of animal stem cells to human embryonic stem cell research, NYU's researchers promote the design of innovative therapies for cancer and other diseases.

The Intrigue of Cancer Stem Cells

Previous approaches to cancer therapy have targeted the entire tumor. Like organs, tumors have a hierarchy of cells -- some with multiple potential for differentiation, and some that are more committed to a particular cell type.  Cancer is thought to arise in the multipotent (pluripotent) cells. Results of recent studies suggest that a particular population of cells within a tumor may be responsible for malignant transformation.

Stem cells and tumor cells share many common features -- most importantly, their ability to "self-renew." Thus, a small population of cancer-causing cells may self-renew within a larger population of noncancerous cells. Only a small fraction of tumor cells are likely to be multipotent, however. Since these are the cells capable of self-renewal, they must be identified and isolated.

A detailed understanding of stem cell biology may enable researchers to identify, isolate, and eliminate multipotent cancer stem cells, potentially leading to better targeted therapies.