Breast cancer metastasis and disease recurrence are hypothesized to result from residual cancer stem cells, also referred to as tumor-initiating cells, which evade initial treatment. Using both syngeneic mouse and human xenograft models of triple-negative breast cancer, wehavedemonstrated that a subpopulation enriched in cancer stem cells was more resistant to treatment with 6 gray of ionizing radiation than the bulk of the tumor cells, and accordingly their relative proportion increased 48 to 72 hours after ionizing radiation treatment. In contrast, we achieved a larger reduction in tumor size without a concomitant increase in the percentage of cancer stem cells by treating with local hyperthermia for 20minutes at 42°C after ionizing radiation using intravenously administered, optically activated gold nanoshells. Forty-eight hours after treatment, cells derived from the tumors treated with ionizing radiation plus hyperthermia exhibited both a marked decrease in tumorigenicity and a more differentiated phenotype thanmock- and ionizing radiation-treated tumors. Thus, we have confirmed that these cancer stem cells are responsible for accelerated repopulation in vivo and demonstrated that hyperthermia sensitizes this cell population to radiation treatment. These findings suggest that local hyperthermia delivered by gold nanoshells plus radiation can eliminate radioresistant breast cancer stem cells.
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