During the last decade, cancer research has gained substantial knowledge by applying a multidisciplinary developmental understanding of tumor formation and progression, as well as a precise analysis on individual differences in tumors with single cell resolution.

It is now becoming increasingly evident that cancer cells comprise a heterogeneous cell population with dynamic sub-populations of cells showing different biological profiles including cell proliferation, invasiveness and metastatic potential. The temporal and spatial dynamics of heterogeneity appear to be directed by autocrine and paracrine short- and long-range effects. Accordingly, evidence is now mounting that drug efficacy can be strongly attenuated by the heterogeneous nature of tumor sub-populations, by interactions between those populations itself and the local environment, the immune system and systematic variations in long-range signalling (e.g. hormones).

In recent years, the emergence of developmental and stem cell tools, combined with advanced validated high throughput analytical tools providing single cell (or sub-cellular) resolution and high sensitivity, has dramatically enhanced our ability for addressing fundamental questions in oncology. We are now finally able to generate the necessary understanding for addressing and possibly predicting tumour spread, relapse and therapeutic efficacy in ex vivo systems as basic tools for drug discovery.

CANCER STEM CELL INNOVATION CENTER (SFI-CAST) is an integrated biomedical innovation centre that works towards the identification and characterization of stem cell parameters in tumors. SFI-CAST develops innovative approaches for finding small drugs, cancer vaccines and antibodies that address specifically stem cell issues in cancer. Furthermore, SFI-CAST works towards high resolution visualization of specific cell sub-populations in the body as a tool for tracking therapeutic success.