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Open Access Research article

Immunotherapy using slow-cycling tumor cells prolonged overall survival of tumor-bearing mice

Qing Sun1, Yong Zhong1, Fan Wu2, Chunxia Zhou1, Dongmei Wang1, Wenbo Ma1, Youhui Zhang1 and Shuren Zhang1*

Author affiliations

1 Department of Immunology, Cancer Hospital & Institute, Peking Union Medical College and Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, Beijing 100021, China

2 Department of Abdominal Surgery, Cancer Hospital & Institute, Peking Union Medical College and Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, Beijing 100021, China

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Citation and License

BMC Medicine 2012, 10:172  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-10-172

Published: 27 December 2012



Despite considerable progress in the development of anticancer therapies, there is still a high mortality rate caused by cancer relapse and metastasis. Dormant or slow-cycling residual tumor cells are thought to be a source of tumor relapse and metastasis, and are therefore an obstacle to therapy. In this study, we assessed the drug resistance of tumor cells in mice, and investigated whether vaccination could promote survival.


The mouse colon carcinoma cell line CT-26 was treated with 5-fluorouracil to assess its sensitivity to drug treatment. Mice with colon tumors were immunized with inactivated slow-cycling CT-26 cells to estimate the efficacy of this vaccine.


We identified a small population of slow-cycling tumor cells in the mouse colon carcinoma CT-26 cell line, which was resistant to conventional chemotherapy. To inhibit tumor recurrence and metastasis more effectively, treatments that selectively target the slow-cycling tumor cells should be developed to complement conventional therapies. We found that drug-treated, slow-cycling tumor cells induced a more intense immune response in vitro. Moreover, vaccination with inactivated slow-cycling tumor cells caused a reduction in tumor volume and prolonged the overall survival of tumor-bearing mice.


These findings suggest that targeting of slow-cycling tumor cells application using immunotherapy is a possible treatment to complement traditional antitumor therapy.

cancer relapse; drug resistance; slow-cycling tumor cells; tumor vaccine