Michael Clarke lab

In addition to his clinical duties in the division of Oncology, Dr. Clarke maintains a laboratory focused on two areas of research: i) the control of self-renewal of normal stem cells and their malignant counterparts; and ii) the identification and characterization of cancer stem cells. A central issue in stem cell biology is to understand the mechanisms that regulate self-renewal of hematopoietic stem cells, which are required for hematopoiesis to persist for the lifetime of the animal. Until recently, the molecular mechanisms that regulate adult stem cell self-renewal were not known. His laboratory recently found that the proto-oncogene Bmi-1 regulates stem cell self-renewal via an epigenetic mechanism. By investigating the pathways upstream and downstream of Bmi1, the laboratory is actively investigating the molecular pathways that regulate self-renewal.

Cancers arise as a result of a series of genetic mutations. A better understanding of the consequences of these mutations on the underlying biology of the neoplastic cells will help to focus the development of more effective therapies. Solid tumors such as breast cancers contain heterogeneous populations of neoplastic cells. Dr. Clarke’s group has developed a technique that allows the isolation and characterization of tumorigenic and non-tumorigenic populations of cancer cells present in human breast, colon and head and neck cancer tumors. Only a small minority of cancer cells had the capacity to form new tumors in a xenograft model. This tumorigenic cell population could be identified prospectively and consistently had definable and identical phenotype. The tumorigenic cells displayed stem cell-like properties in that they were capable of generating new tumors containing additional stem cells as well as regenerating the phenotypically mixed populations of non-tumorigenic cells present in the original tumor. Effective treatment of cancer will require therapeutic strategies that are able to target and eliminate this tumorigenic subset of cells. The laboratory is pursuing the identification of cancer stem cells in other tumors so that they can be studied. Dr. Clarke’s laboratory will provide other members of the program with the expertise to identify and isolate cancer stem cells from solid tumors of epithelial origin. Finally, the laboratory is actively pursuing how cancer stem cells self-renew to maintain themselves and escape the genetic constraints on unlimited self-renewal that regulate normal stem cell numbers. Differences in self-renewal pathways between normal and malignant stem cells could be targeted by new therapeutic agents to eliminate cancer stem cells.

Karel H. and Avice N. Beekhuis Professor in Cancer Biology

Publications

  • Stromal Gli2 activity coordinates a niche signaling program for mammary epithelial stem cells SCIENCE Zhao, C., Cai, S., Shin, K., Lim, A., Kalisky, T., Lu, W., Clarke, M. F., Beachy, P. A. 2017; 356 (6335): 284-?
  • A Quiescent Bcl11b High Stem Cell Population Is Required for Maintenance of the Mammary Gland. Cell stem cell Cai, S., Kalisky, T., Sahoo, D., Dalerba, P., Feng, W., Lin, Y., Qian, D., Kong, A., Yu, J., Wang, F., Chen, E. Y., Scheeren, F. A., Kuo, A. H., Sikandar, S. S., Hisamori, S., van Weele, L. J., Heiser, D., Sim, S., Lam, J., Quake, S., Clarke, M. F. 2017; 20 (2): 247-260 e5

    Abstract

    Stem cells in many tissues sustain themselves by entering a quiescent state to avoid genomic insults and to prevent exhaustion caused by excessive proliferation. In the mammary gland, the identity and characteristics of quiescent epithelial stem cells are not clear. Here, we identify a quiescent mammary epithelial cell population expressing high levels of Bcl11b and located at the interface between luminal and basal cells. Bcl11b(high) cells are enriched for cells that can regenerate mammary glands in secondary transplants. Loss of Bcl11b leads to a Cdkn2a-dependent exhaustion of ductal epithelium and loss of epithelial cell regenerative capacity. Gain- and loss-of-function studies show that Bcl11b induces cells to enter the G0 phase of the cell cycle and become quiescent. Taken together, these results suggest that Bcl11b acts as a central intrinsic regulator of mammary epithelial stem cell quiescence and exhaustion and is necessary for long-term maintenance of the mammary gland.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.stem.2016.11.007

    View details for PubMedID 28041896

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5341693

  • Role of epithelial to mesenchymal transition associated genes in mammary gland regeneration and breast tumorigenesis. Nature communications Sikandar, S. S., Kuo, A. H., Kalisky, T., Cai, S., Zabala, M., Hsieh, R. W., Lobo, N. A., Scheeren, F. A., Sim, S., Qian, D., Dirbas, F. M., Somlo, G., Quake, S. R., Clarke, M. F. 2017; 8 (1): 1669

    Abstract

    Previous studies have proposed that epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) in breast cancer cells regulates metastasis, stem cell properties and chemo-resistance; most studies were based on in vitro culture of cell lines and mouse transgenic cancer models. However, the identity and function of cells expressing EMT-associated genes in normal murine mammary gland homeostasis and human breast cancer still remains under debate. Using in vivo lineage tracing and triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) patient derived xenografts we demonstrate that the repopulating capacity in normal mammary epithelial cells and tumorigenic capacity in TNBC is independent of expression of EMT-associated genes. In breast cancer, while a subset of cells with epithelial and mesenchymal phenotypes have stem cell activity, in many cells that have lost epithelial characteristics with increased expression of mesenchymal genes, have decreased tumor-initiating capacity and plasticity. These findings have implications for the development of effective therapeutic agents targeting tumor-initiating cells.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/s41467-017-01666-2

    View details for PubMedID 29162812

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5698470

  • Targeted chromatin ligation, a robust epigenetic profiling technique for small cell numbers. Nucleic acids research Zarnegar, M. A., Reinitz, F., Newman, A. M., Clarke, M. F. 2017; 45 (17): e153

    Abstract

    The complexity and inefficiency of chromatin immunoprecipitation strategies restrict their sensitivity and application when examining rare cell populations. We developed a new technique that replaces immunoprecipitation with a simplified chromatin fragmentation and proximity ligation step that eliminates bead purification and washing steps. We present a simple single tube proximity ligation technique, targeted chromatin ligation, that captures histone modification patterns with only 200 cells. Our technique eliminates loss of material and sensitivity due to multiple inefficient steps, while simplifying the workflow to enhance sensitivity and create the potential for novel applications.

    View details for DOI 10.1093/nar/gkx648

    View details for PubMedID 28973448

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5622369

  • CDX2 as a Prognostic Biomarker in Stage II and Stage III Colon Cancer NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE Dalerba, P., Sahoo, D., Paik, S., Guo, X., Yothers, G., Song, N., Wilcox-Fogel, N., Forgo, E., Rajendran, P. S., Miranda, S. P., Hisamori, S., Hutchison, J., Kalisky, T., Qian, D., Wolmark, N., Fisher, G. A., van de Rijn, M., Clarke, M. F. 2016; 374 (3): 211-222