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What is the main focus of your research?

The main focus of our research is to study the migration of brain cancer cells and brain tumor stem cells (BTSCs). One of the major shortcomings of surgery for brain cancer patients is the high rate of recurrence following resection of the tumor. Dr. Q believes that this is in part due to the ability of brain tumor cells to migrate away from the bulk of the tumor and penetrate the healthy brain tissue of the patient where they can hide or escape from the surgeon. Experimental evidence suggest that a subpopulation of cells called brain tumor stem cells (BTSCs) retain their tumor initiating ability and are responsible for the invasive and chemo/radioresistant nature of malignant gliomas. For this reason, Dr. Q’s lab is now trying to understand the biology of cancer stem cells and how we could better target them in the future with various kinds of therapeutics.

Do you work with embryonic stem cells?

No. We only work with adult brain tumor stem cells, adult human neural stem cells, adult adipose-derived mesenchymal stem cells, and mouse neural stem cells.

What is the difference between embryonic stem cells and the stem cells you work with?

In the Quiñones laboratory, we use stem cells obtained from adult tumor and non-tumor tissues. These tumor tissues are graciously donated to our lab, with consent, by Dr. Q’s patients. These include brain tumor stem cells (BTSCs), mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) and neural stem cells (NSCs).

Our mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are acquired from adipose (fat) tissue used during the removal of pituitary tumors. MSCs exist in all tissues during human development, but in adults they are prevalent in bone marrow. These cells are multipotent and can differentiate into various mesenchymal lineage cells including adipocytes (fat), osteocytes (bone), and chondrocytes (cartilage).

Our brain tumor stem cells (BTSCs) are obtained from brain tumor tissue. This type of stem cell is restricted to a neuronal lineage and; therefore, cannot become a non-neuronal cell type such as muscle or bone.

Our adult neural stem cells (NSCs) are derived from epileptic resections or post-mortem tissue. NSCs are a population of cells in the nervous system that have the ability to self-renew and give rise to various differentiated neural cell types such as astrocytes, neurons and oligodendrocytes. Neural stem cells can also be obtained from fetal, neonatal, or postnatal tissues.

Embryonic stem cells are derived from a four day old fertilized ovum, otherwise known as a blastocyst. They are highly attractive in science and medicine due to their ability to generate all cell types of the human body.

How close are we to finding a cure for brain cancer?

This is a tough question. We as a scientific community do not have a clear answer as to when we will have a cure. Each type of cancer can be many different diseases in itself. Each brain tumor can be many diseases that are constantly evolving, both in response to their environment and to the treatments that are administered to them. As a result, there is an increased impetus to find novel methods to eradicate this disease. Scientists are committed to the fight and continue to apply their best efforts to eliminate this devastating disease.