Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory masthead A-Z Index Berkeley Lab masthead U.S. Department of Energy logo Phone Book Jobs Search
Tech Transfer
Licensing Interest Form Receive Customized Tech Alerts

Early Detection of Metastatic Cancer Progenitor Cells



  • Identifying aggressive cancer progenitor cells in:
    • Breast cancer
    • Colon cancer
    • Gastric cancer
    • Leukemia
    • Skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma and melanoma
    • Gliomas and other types of brain cancer
    • Multiple myeloma and other immune cell related cancers
    • Desmoid and other mesenchymal related cancers
  • Designing novel therapies for the treatment of aggressive cancers


  • Earlier detection of aggressive tumors by MRI, NIR, SPECT, CT, or PET
  • Possibility of more accurate diagnosis of aggressive cancers
  • Promises new therapies tailored to a cancer patient’s risk for metastases
  • Treatment could avoid the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation


Mina Bissell of Berkeley Lab and Eva Turley of the London Health Sciences Centre/University of Western Ontario have developed a method for identifying cancer progenitor cells associated with highly aggressive metastatic cancers. The inventors discovered that cancer progenitor cells can be identified by detecting the presence of a protein complex composed of CD44, a glycoprotein and marker of cancer progenitor cells, and RHAMM, a protein/receptor that binds to CD44. The researchers have also found that aggressive cancers may be treated by inhibiting the expression of the CD44/RHAMM complex.

The identification of CD44/RHAMM in vivo through imaging techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET), near-infrared (NIR) imaging, single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT), or computed tomography (CT) marks the presence of aggressive cancer cells. Unlike conventional methods, the invention makes it possible to find aggressive tumors regardless of their size, therefore promising early and more effective treatment before aggressive cancers have spread to other parts of the body.

By directly targeting the tumor progenitor cells, treatment of healthy cells is prevented, which results in fewer side effects, such as hair loss, depression, arthritis and increased risk of heart attacks, than broadly applied chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Furthermore, the technology makes it possible to customize cancer treatments to the patient. This is especially advantageous for breast cancer patients whose tumors may have already become aggressive by the time the tumors have been detected by conventional methods.


  • Available for licensing or collaborative research.
  • Published Patent Application WO 2008/140587 available at Published US Patent Application 12/470,453 available at


  • Some proof of principle achieved.

To learn more about licensing a technology from LBNL see



See More Biotech & Medicine Technologies