Stem cells are crucial for organ maintenance throughout life but can also serve as cells of origin for tumor formation. In addition, tumors arising from both stem cell and non-stem cell origins can hijack molecular pathways of stem cell self-renewal, genomic maintenance and metabolic control to enable their deregulated growth. Thus, knowledge of the molecular mechanisms that ensure stem cell function and regulate organ development and regenerative activity under normal conditions directly informs understanding of tumor initiating and propagating signals. Conversely, knowledge of the mutations and environmental signals that can trigger and maintain tumor cell renewal can suggest novel avenues to boost stem cell function and facilitate organogenesis and repair.
The 2019 Gordon Research Conference on Stem Cells and Cancer will bring together a diverse, interdisciplinary group of researchers with interests in organogenesis, tumorigenesis, stem cell function and therapy to catalyze collaboration and cross-fertilize ideas. The meeting will focus particularly on developmental, metabolic, genomic and epigenomic mechanisms regulating the function of cancer cells and stem cells. We will explore exciting new opportunities and insights available from genome-wide genetic and epigenetic studies, now with single cell resolution, from high resolution assessment of mitochondrial bioenergetics and metabolic flux, and from the increased experimental accessibility of stem cell differentiation and tumorigenic processes made possible by induced pluripotency, direct reprogramming and ex vivo “organoid” cultures. Finally, we will discuss new and emerging clinical applications, rooted in concepts derived from the interface of cancer and stem cell biology, providing a window into future cutting-edge therapies for cancer and degenerative disease.