If you want to cure cancer, you need to know about cancer stem cells. In my opinion the most important breakthrough in cancer research in the last decade has been the realization that standard cancer treatment protocols don’t work very well. They consisted of using surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Surgery is effective for early cancer. But radiotherapy and chemotherapy have been disappointing. Instead cancer immunotherapy has emerged as the missing link in the last 10 years. The full truth about cancer can only be understood, when we realize that most, if not all solid tumors are having their own cancer stem cells (CSC). In the past this was only recognized for leukemia, largely because of a lack of testing methods for solid tumors. We now have at least two methods of proving the existence of CSCs in solid tumors, as I will explain in more detail below. Using this new cancer stem cell concept, cancer can only be cured when the CSCs are eradicated.
New assays for cancer stem cells
Originally the concept of regular stem cells was proven in mice by radiating them and injecting bone marrow cells into them to rescue them. When the animals were sacrificed colonies were detected in their spleens that were of the same cell type as the injected stem cells. This new thinking revolutionized the treatment of leukemia. Bone marrow transplants were introduced that allowed in some cases a cure for leukemia. Presently there is a new wave of stem cell treatment applications for a variety of conditions.
With regard to developing an assay for cancer stem cells in solid tumors researchers took a strain of hairless mice that are known to be immune deficient (they lack thymus derived lymphocytes or T cells). They are officially called nude mice.
When human cancer stem cell samples are injected into them, they develop the original cancer of human origin, and they succumb to metastases. Histologically the tumors in these mice are the same as the original human cancer. Another mouse model was also shown to be equally effective in demonstrating CSC activity. The immune system of regular laboratory mice can be paralyzed with prior chemotherapy treatment. Using these chemotherapy pre-treated mice the CSC assay works very similar to the one using nude mice. If isolated cancer stem cells are injected into the nude mouse or immunosuppressed mouse model, cancer cells, such as prostate cancer cells will grow in a short time that look histologically the same as prostate cancer found in prostate biopsies from a man affected by prostate cancer.
Cancer stem cells in prostate cancer
Prostate cancer seems to originate from a cancer stem cell (CSC). The CSC has no androgenic receptors contrary to the majority of prostate cancer cells. This may be the reason why radiotherapy, hormone ablation and chemotherapy do not affect CSCs in prostate cancer. Ultimately this is the reason why the patient dies when the resistant CSCs multiply in the end stage.
One of the important new insights into cancer is that CSCs have the same surface antigen components as the cancer cells despite the difference in other receptors like hormone receptors. One of the techniques of killing prostate cancer is ablation cryotherapy using Argon applicators that freeze the cancer cells, followed by thawing them again. The interventional radiologist, Dr. Gary Onik was the inventor of this technique. Using temperature probes this can be controlled and is done at least twice. This will eliminate all prostate cancer including the prostate CSC. At the same time it will stimulate human T cells to recognize the cancer cell surface antigens as foreign and mount an immune reaction to eliminate any remaining cancer cells and all the CSCs. Prior to doing the cryotherapy the cancer cells were secreting substances that disabled the immune cells from recognizing prostate cancer as foreign cells. Now the cryosurgery does a double task: this therapy kills cancer cells and CSC and vaccinates patients against their specific tumors. This eradicates metastases and either cures the cancer or prolongs survival.
Irreversible electroporation and cancer stem cells
Another technique pioneered by Dr. Onik is the NanoKnife or irreversible electroporation (IRE). This is another tumor ablation method using high voltage electrical impulses that put nano-sized holes into cancer cells, but not into surrounding healthy tissue. Dr. Onik has been pioneering prostate cancer treatment, but he has also shown in liver cancer that this method can double the survival rate, compared to conventional treatment methods. Again, CSC and cancer cells are killed by this method and the released surface antigens of cancer cells stimulate the immune system to further the healing.
Other solid tumors and cancer stem cells
In the last 10 years new methods have been developed to demonstrate the existence of CSCs in many solid tumors. Both the cryotherapy ablation method as well as the IRE method that stimulate the immune system in the sense of a cancer vaccination is not only effective in prostate cancer. It works for most solid tumors such as pancreatic cancer, liver cancer, melanoma, breast cancer, colon cancer and many more.
These new evolving cancer therapies are essentially avoiding the trap of chemotherapy and radiotherapy where only more resistant cancer cells are produced. By removing the original cancer with cryosurgery and/or IRE the immune system is specifically stimulated to recognize the surface antigens of the cancer cells and the CSCs at the same time. With this cancer vaccination process the CSCs are eliminated, and this prevents new cancer cell clones (metastases) from developing. Dr. Onik has recently treated incurable cancer patients and has a cure rate of about 30% (personal communication) in patients who previously would all have died. Others are partial cures, where patients live much longer than anticipated. Using these techniques it is possible in many cases to cure end stage cancer. This has been done with liver and pancreas cancer, cancers that are extremely difficult to treat otherwise.
Cancer seems to develop out of cancer stem cells that are abnormal cells with genetic mutations. They are resistant to chemotherapy and radiotherapy, but respond to surgery, to cryotherapy and to irreversible electroporation (IRE). The advantage of cryotherapy and IRE is that the tumor and the cancer stem cells are removed, but at the same time the killed cancer cells stimulate the immune system to produce cancer-fighting antibodies that kill metastases and any remaining cancer stem cells. Although initially shown to be effective in prostate cancer patients, this method has since been tested in terminal cancer patients with pancreatic cancer, melanoma, liver cancer, brain cancer and many more solid tumor types.
Cancer is a disease of the immune system, and it is only logical that immunotherapy will achieve successful treatment. Surgery can only be successful, if the entire tumor is removed, which in many cases is not possible. Radiotherapy leaves cancer cells behind that will become resistant to treatment. Chemotherapy has the dismal prospect of killing the immune system and ultimately the patient. It appears that cryotherapy (and/or IRE) and the associated immunotherapy are the way of future cancer treatments. This is the most important breakthrough in cancer research during the last ten years.