Senior Group Leader Prof. Dr. Andreas Trumpp
Junior Group Leader Dr. Martin Sprick (PhD)

Metastases are tumor growths that have spread from a primary tumor to distant organs. The chances of cure are much lower if the primary tumor has already formed metastases. In fact, metastization is the main cause of death in cancer patients because the majority of cancer treatments are no longer effective in this late stage of the disease..

Metastases develop when cancer cells detach from the original (primary) tumor and travel via the blood or lymph to other parts of the body, where they settle and multiply. Although current techniques make it possible to detect and quantify tumor cells in the bloodstream, nothing about their biology or function is known. Researchers at Hi-STEM assume that only circulating tumor cells of CSC origin function as metastasis-inducing cancer stem cells (MIC). 

The identification of new biomarkers is a major goal of two HI-STEM research groups working under the direction of Dr. Christoph Rösli and Dr. Martin Sprick. Quantitative detection of MICs in the bloodstream and bone marrow of cancer patients could have two major benefits: it could significantly improve the diagnosis of cancer and could make it possible to more quickly assess the results and benefits of treatment. HI-STEM is working together with different departments of Heidelberg University Hospital (Gynecology and Surgery), the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT), the Institute of Tumor Biology in Hamburg, and Merck-Serono in Darmstadt to find ways to detect and eliminate metastasis-inducing cancer stem cells. 

Our goal is to develop new diagnostic markers that enable the detection and quantification of MICs in the bloodstream of cancer patients. In parallel to this, HI-STEM is working closely with Merck-Serono to develop new drugs capable of achieving the long-term eradication of circulating MICs and established metastases in the near future.