University of Michigan scientists say the trials are being conducted on women with advanced-stage breast cancer and are an attempt to affect the cancer's stem cells, believed to be resistant to traditional therapies and the fuel behind cancer's spread, the Detroit News reported Thursday.
The trial is using experimental drugs intended to block these cancer stem cells in order to shrink or at least stop tumors from spreading, the newspaper reported.
Mary Diesing, who has battled breast cancer that has spread to her bones, spine and liver, is taking part in the trial.
"This is my last hope," Diesing, 69, said. "My doctor told me either I do this or go into hospice."
University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Director Max Wicha, who launched the trials Diesing is enrolled in, has begun collaborating with other Michigan scientists involved in stem cell research.
"We rarely use the 'C word' -- cure -- but the intent of research today is not to study (cancer) but to treat and ultimately to beat it," Jeffrey Trent of the Grand Rapids-based Van Andel Institute said.
"There is so much hope that we're positioned today with the information from the (human) genome, with the biologic expertise and understanding of the stem cells, I think we can be at the vanguard of treatments that hopefully will lead toward not just longer, disease-free survival but quite literally cures," Trent said.
"That's the hope of the cancer stem cell approach."