I’ve just been to the 9th Cancer Stem Cell Symposium hosted by the Blizzard Institute at Queen Mary University of London. Despite being a short and small conference, it was a very good one. I guess the number of researchers active in the cancer stem cell field is not too large in the UK, so people know each other. Small conferences are in my eyes usually more informative than the very large meetings with upwards of 30,000 attendees anyway (although these big meetings have their raison d’être as well, because you meet just about everyone in your field).
Anyway, I must say I was impressed with the overall quality of work that was presented (not that I expected bad presentations). I like the general direction our field is progressing towards, that is to say tumour heterogeneity, and it is good to see that more people are thinking along the lines of how to tackle heterogeneous populations of cancer cells in a therapeutic setting. The obvious answer (that was presented by Mel Greaves) is to combine different treatments that target individual cell populations, but that is a loaded gun, as the number of drug interactions between these various therapeutics could quickly become unmanageable and lead to unpredictable adverse effects.
Another point that reverberated with me was a side note from Andrea Sottoriva’s presentation: Things are always more complicated than we thought – which is a recurrent theme in biology, as we discover the underpinnings of biological processes. It may seem trivial, but this point is the proverbial needle that pops the balloon of reductionist models, because we can’t foresee where our current models miss the reality that is indeed more complicated than the model, and at what point our models deviate so critically from reality that they no longer apply. But science is the constant turnover and refinement of models, and over time (one hopes) models improve. (And I like to believe that they do.)
I haven’t forgotten about microscopy images – they will appear soon, I promise.