A signalling link between lung cancer stem cells and non-cancerous cells called fibroblasts is described in a study published in Nature Communications this week. These findings may aid in the development of new agents that target the fibroblast cells for the treatment of lung cancer.
In lung cancer, sub-populations of cells called cancer stem cells are often resistant to conventional treatment. Understanding how these cells survive in tumours is important for developing new strategies to kill these cells. Pan-Chyr Yang, Huei-Wen Chen and colleagues cultured lung cancer stem cells in the laboratory with fibroblasts, which are often found associated with tumours. They found that the fibroblasts supported the stem cell features of the tumour cells via a signalling mechanism. Blocking the signalling pathway reduced the cancer and stem cell features of the tumour cells in the laboratory. When the authors looked at human lung cancer samples they found that tumours and the fibroblasts that showed features of the signalling pathway were associated with poor survival. These findings suggest that targeting the signalling pathway and the fibroblasts may aid in the treatment of lung cancer.