Medical

Ordinary skin cells turned into brain tumor predators

Ordinary skin cells turned int...
Reprogrammed stem cells (green) chase down and kill glioblastoma cells (pink)
Reprogrammed stem cells (green) chase down and kill glioblastoma cells (pink)
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Reprogrammed stem cells (green) chase down and kill glioblastoma cells (pink)
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Reprogrammed stem cells (green) chase down and kill glioblastoma cells (pink)

The 2006 discovery that mature skin cells can be converted into stem cells opened up exciting possibilities in regenerative medicine. Now almost a decade later, the Nobel-Prize winning research of Shinya Yamanaka is still opening doors for scientists across different arms of medical research. In what it labels as a first, a team from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) has built on this technology to transform adult skin cells into cancer-killing stem cells that seek and destroy brain tumors.

Glioblastomas are the most common and fatal form of brain cancer, carrying a survival rate beyond two years of just 30 percent. While surgeons can remove the tumor, often its cancerous tentacles take root deep in the brain and allow it to grow back. Most patients die within a year and a half of diagnosis.

Radiation and chemotherapy can be used to tackle tumors that cannot be surgically removed, but the UNC research team is working towards yet another treatment that zeroes in on these tentacles as a means of further boosting survival rates.

The team harvested adult skin cells called fibroblasts, which produce collagen and connective tissue, and engineered these to become induced neural stems cells. They then administered these cells to mice, observing that they had the ability to go hunting through the brain for remaining cancer cells and kill them off.

This led to an increase in survival times ranging from 160 to 220 percent, depending on the type of tumor. The team says it is also possible to engineer the stem cells to produce a tumor-killing protein, which would make them an even more potent weapon against cancer.

The team mixed stem cells into an FDA-approved surgical glue, which provided a physical matrix to support them while they sought out the cancerous tentacles. The team is now exploring ways to further improve this staying power, along with the potential to load anti-cancer drugs into the stem cells.

"Our work represents the newest evolution of the stem-cell technology that won the Nobel Prize in 2012," says Shawn Hingtgen, an assistant professor at UNC. "We wanted to find out if these induced neural stem cells would home in on cancer cells and whether they could be used to deliver a therapeutic agent. This is the first time this direct reprogramming technology has been used to treat cancer."

The research was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Source: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

4 comments
Racqia Dvorak
And innovative stem cell research like this would not have been funded if embryonic stem cell research(a dead end scientifically in many ways) had not been banned. Ultimately, stem cell lines need to be able to be generated from the patient's own body and embryonic stem cells were a short cut to nowhere. Probably the most important legacy of G.W. Bush.
HensleyBeuronGarlington
I agree with you, Racqia Dvorak. No matter anyone's stance on the abortion issue, the forcing of the research to look elsewhere has turned the ban into one of Bush's greatest decisions.
Dan Parker
Racqia Dvorak- To suggest that G.W. Bush and his administration had anything to do with the advancement of stem cell research other than its subversion and obstruction is specious at best. To swallow your argument, one would have to accept your premise that embryonic stem cell research is a “dead end science”, which is nothing but a conservative, anti-science talking point and one that is not shared by the scientific community at large. http://www.politifact.com/florida/statements/2012/jul/31/dave-weldon/dave-weldon-claims-embryonic-stem-cell-research-de/ (There are other supportive links contained within this article). Your attempt to canonize G.W. Bush in this forum is feeble and unwarranted. His policies and the efforts of those in his administration put us a decade behind in stem cell research and denied possible treatments to an untold number of patients who didn’t deserve to be victimized.
Douglas Bennett Rogers
Embrionic stem cell research would be in the category of dialysis without its political notarity.