A new therapeutic strategy could break the stalemate in the war on cancer by targeting not all cancerous cells but the small fraction that lie at the root of cancers. Lucie Laplane offers a comprehensive analysis of cancer stem cell theory, based on an original interdisciplinary approach that combines biology, biomedical history, and philosophy.
The tacit standard view that development ends once reproductive capacity is acquired (reproductive boundary, or ‘‘RB,’’ thesis) has recently been challenged by biologists and philosophers of biology arguing that development continues until death (death boundary, or ‘‘DB,’’ thesis). The relevance of these two theses is difficult to assess because the fact that there is no precise definition of development makes the determination of its temporal boundaries problematic. Taking into account this difficulty, this article tries to develop a new species-dependent perspective (...) on temporal boundaries of development. This species-dependent account stands against both RB and DB theses since neither of them reflects the differences between species in the temporality of their development. In this perspective, I propose to use stem cells as a tool to analyze (1) the different developmental capacities of an organism during its life; and (2) the different developmental temporal capacities between species. In particular, I will show that stem cells enable four distinct temporal developmental patterns to be distinguished, i.e., four distinct temporal boundaries of development in the living. I show how these four patterns can be interpreted differently depending on the perspective one has on the definition of development. (shrink)
In response to Germain argument that evolution by natural selection has a limited explanatory power in cancer, Lean and Plutynski have recently argued that many adaptations in cancer only make sense at the tumor level, and that cancer progression mirrors the major evolutionary transitions. While we agree that selection could potentially act at various levels of organization in cancers, we argue that tumor-level selection is unlikely to actually play a relevant role in our understanding of the somatic evolution of human (...) cancers. (shrink)
This special issue of Biological Theory is focused on development; it raises the problem of the temporal and spatial boundaries of development. From a temporal point of view, when does development start and stop? From a spatial point of view, what is it exactly that "develops", and is it possible to delineate clearly the developing entity? This issue explores the possible answers to these questions, and thus sheds light on the definition of development itself.
The clonal evolution model and the cancer stem cell model are two independent models of cancers, yet recent data shows intersections between the two models. This article explores the impacts of the CSC model on the CE model. I show that CSC restriction, which depends on CSC frequency in cancer cell populations and on the probability of dedifferentiation of cancer non-stem cells into CSCs, can favor or impede some patterns of evolution and some processes of evolution. Taking CSC restriction into (...) account for the CE model thus has implications for the way in which we understand the patterns and processes of evolution, and can also provide new leads for therapeutic interventions. (shrink)
Reprogramming technologies show that cellular identity can be reprogrammed, challenging the classical conception of cell differentiation as an irreversible process. If non-stem cells can be reprogrammed into stem cells, then what is it to be a stem cell, and what kind of property is stemness? This article addresses this question both philosophically and biologically, states the different possibilities, and illustrates their potential consequences for science with the example of anti-cancer therapies.
Cancers rely on multiple, heterogeneous processes at different scales, pertaining to many biomedical fields. Therefore, understanding cancer is necessarily an interdisciplinary task that requires placing specialised experimental and clinical research into a broader conceptual, theoretical, and methodological framework. Without such a framework, oncology will collect piecemeal results, with scant dialogue between the different scientific communities studying cancer. We argue that one important way forward in service of a more successful dialogue is through greater integration of applied sciences (experimental and clinical) (...) with conceptual and theoretical approaches, informed by philosophical methods. By way of illustration, we explore six central themes: (i) the role of mutations in cancer; (ii) the clonal evolution of cancer cells; (iii) the relationship between cancer and multicellularity; (iv) the tumour microenvironment; (v) the immune system; and (vi) stem cells. In each case, we examine open questions in the scientific literature through a philosophical methodology and show the benefit of such a synergy for the scientific and medical understanding of cancer. (shrink)
Is it possible, and in the first place is it even desirable, to define what "development" means and to determine the scope of the field called "developmental biology"? Though these questions appeared crucial for the founders of "developmental biology" in the 1950s, there seems to be no consensus today about the need to address them. Here, in a combined biological, philosophical, and historical approach, we ask whether it is possible and useful to define biological development, and, if such a definition (...) is indeed possible and useful, which definition can be considered as the most satisfactory. (shrink)
This chapter brings a philosophical perspective to the concept of stem cell. Three general questions both clarify the concept of stem cell and emphasize its ambiguities: (1) How should we define stem cells? (2) What makes them different from non-stem cells? (3) What is their ontology? (i.e. what kind of property is “stemness”?) Following this last question, the Chapter distinguishes four conceptions of stem cells and highlights their respective consequences for the cancer stem cell theory. Determining what kind of property (...) stemness is, in what context, is an urgent question, at least for therapeutic strategies against cancers. I hope that this chapter also illustrates how philosophy can be useful to biology. -/- The Chapter starts by clarifying the notions of self-renewal and differentiation. This leads to the question “can we (and if so, how) distinguish stem cells from non-stem cells through these two properties?”. From that will follow an interrogation on whether stem cells belong to a natural kind. On this issue, biologists and philosophers have framed the following alternative: either the concept of stem cell refers to entities (the cells that belong to the stem cell natural kind) or it refers to a transient and reversible cell state. I will argue that four conceptions of stemness should be distinguished rather than two. Finally, I will develop the case of the cancer stem cell (CSC) theory in order to show why it is crucial to answer the ontological question: some therapies might or might not be efficient depending on what stemness is. (shrink)
The presence and role of microbes in human cancers has come full circle in the last century. Tumors are no longer considered aseptic, but implications for cancer biology and oncology remain underappreciated. Opportunities to identify and build translational diagnostics, prognostics, and therapeutics that exploit cancer's second genome—the metagenome—are manifold, but require careful consideration of microbial experimental idiosyncrasies that are distinct from host‐centric methods. Furthermore, the discoveries of intracellular and intra‐metastatic cancer bacteria necessitate fundamental changes in describing clonal evolution and selection, (...) reflecting bidirectional interactions with non‐human residents. Reconsidering cancer clonality as a multispecies process similarly holds key implications for understanding metastasis and prognosing therapeutic resistance while providing rational guidance for the next generation of bacterial cancer therapies. Guided by these new findings and challenges, this Review describes opportunities to exploit cancer's metagenome in oncology and proposes an evolutionary framework as a first step towards modeling multispecies cancer clonality. Also see the video abstract here: https://youtu.be/-WDtIRJYZSs. (shrink)
The demonstration that pluripotent stem cells could be generated by somatic cell reprogramming led to wonder if these so-called induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells would extend our investigation capabilities in the cancer research field. The first iPS cells derived from cancer cells have now revealed the benefits and potential pitfalls of this new model. iPS cells appear to be an innovative approach to decipher the steps of cell transformation as well as to screen the activity and toxicity of anticancer drugs. (...) A better understanding of the impact of reprogramming on cancer cell-specific features as well as improvements in culture conditions to integrate the role of the microenvironment in their behavior may strengthen the epistemic interest of iPS cells as model systems in oncology. (shrink)
Like most bilaterian animals, the annelid Platynereis dumerilii generates the majority of its body axis in an anterior to posterior temporal progression with new segments added sequentially. This process relies on a posterior subterminal proliferative body region, known as the "segment addition zone" (SAZ). We explored some of the molecular and cellular aspects of posterior elongation in Platynereis, in particular to test the hypothesis that the SAZ contains a specific set of stem cells dedicated to posterior elongation.We cloned and characterized (...) the developmental expression patterns of orthologs of 17 genes known to be involved in the formation, behavior, or maintenance of stem cells in other metazoan models. These genes encode RNA-binding proteins(e.g., tudor, musashi, pumilio) or transcription factors(e.g., myc, id, runx) widely conserved in eumetazoans. Most of these genes are expressed both in the migrating primordial germ cells and in overlapping ring-like patterns in the SAZ, similar to some previously analyzed genes(piwi, vasa). The SAZ patterns are coincident with the expression of proliferation markers cyclin B and PCNA. EdU pulse and chase experiments suggest that new segments are produced through many rounds of divisions from small populations of teloblast-like posterior stem cells. The shared molecular signature between primordial germ cells and posterior stem cells in Platynereis thus corresponds to an ancestral "stemness" program. (shrink)