Dormant and aggressive stem cells

The German Stem Cell Network awarded their “GSCN 2018 Publication of the Year Award” to MDC cancer researcher Clemens Schmitt in August 2018.

Stem cells are the primordial cells of life from which all other types of cells develop. Both the benevolent cells that are vital to life as well as the malignant ones that degenerate into diseases such as cancer. Whichever path they take, stem cells employ various strategies to defend themselves against change and attack in the best possible manner.

In 2018 the German Stem Cell Network (GSCN) is honoring the researchers who are studying these processes closely in order to understand them better. The „GSCN 2018 Publication of the Year Award“ goes to Professor Clemens Schmitt and Dr Maja Milanovic for their publication “Senescence-associated reprogramming promotes cancer stemness”, released 2017 in the journal Nature.

Senescent Tumour Cells

Professor Clemens Schmitt

The award acknowledges their work on the effects of triggering a cell ageing program (senescence) on tumor cells. Triggering cellular senescence, and thereby achieving a definitive cell division arrest, is an important therapeutic approach for impeding tumor cell growth.

Milanovic and Schmitt investigated the downsides of senescence, involving the triggering of epigenetic reprogramming in tumor cells. In such instances, a tumor cell program (tumor stemness) counters the therapeutic objective, enabling aggressive tumor cell growth, thereby favoring treatment failure and potentially the formation of metastases.

By way of a novel single-cell analysis method, the scientists at the Charité University Medical Department in Berlin and the Max-Delbrück Centre for Molecular Medicine (MDC) observed the moment in which stem cell reprogrammed senescent tumor cells sometimes spontaneously revert to the cell division cycle, enabling them to unfold their newly gained stem cell potential in the first place. The results show that tumor cells can defend themselves aggressively and effectively against cancer treatments by reprogramming to stem cell characteristics. At the same time, proceeding on these insights, the team of scientists derived genetic and drug-based strategies for neutralizing tumor stemness.

Furthermore, the GSCN awarded a „GSCN 2018 Young Investigator Award“ and a „GSCN 2018 Female Scientist Award“. The three GSCN awards are endowed with 1,500 Euros each, and the prizewinners will give a lecture at the Presidential Symposium on Thursday, 20 September at this year’s GSCN Stem Cell Conference from 19 – 21 September 2018 in Heidelberg. The GSCN was founded in 2013 and aims to better network, support and disseminate its results and research to a broad public.

Source: GSCN Press Release


Maja Milanovic, et al. (2017): Senescence-associated reprogramming promotes cancer stemness. Nature 553, 96-100. doi:10.1038/nature25167