American Association for Cancer Research

Targeting Sleeping Cancer Cells


Cancer cells of different types have the very strange ability to go to sleep and then eventually wake up. While cancer cells sleep, they are resistant to virtually all currently available forms of treatment. However, we do not understand how highly aggressive cancer cells become dormant. It has proven extremely difficult to study these cells directly in patients and we have lacked suitable model systems to study them in the laboratory. The Ramaswamy group recently made a remarkable observation that has the potential to open this important area for new investigation. They found that highly aggressive cancer cell lines of various types occasionally produce dormant cells. This has enabled the development of methods to identify, isolate and experimentally probe spontaneously arising quiescent cancer cells at the molecular level. The Ramaswamy group will use cutting edge genomic, proteomic and computational technologies to identify and validate genetic and protein signaling networks that trigger and maintain cancer cell dormancy. His goal is to develop new diagnostics and drugs based on this insight to prevent cancer cells from becoming dormant or kill them while they sleep.

Sridhar Ramaswamy, M.D., is assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, and associate member of the Broad Institute, and a principal member of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.

Updated: April 4, 2011