A group of scientists from the Harvard Medical School have discovered a way of turning stem cells into “killing machines” to fight brain cancer in experiments on mice.
The stem cells were genetically engineered to produce and secrete toxins which kill brain tumours without killing normal cells or themselves. Researchers said the next stage was to test the procedure in humans, and a stem cell expert has said that this is the “future” of cancer treatment.
The study, published in the Stem Cells journal, was the work of scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. They have been researching a way of using stem cell based therapy for cancer which would kill tumour cells but not others for many years. Genetic engineering was used to make stem cells that produced cancer-killing toxins, but crucially were also able to resist the affects of the toxins they produced and also posed no risk to healthy, normal cells.
Inez Brown, Partner at the Medical Accident Group said: “This work is a huge breakthrough in cancer treatment and may in the future be used to fight tumours of the brain in human beings. Cancer-killing toxins have been used with great success in a variety of blood cancers, but they don’t work as well in solid tumours because these cancers aren’t as accessible and the toxins involved only have a short life. This is a clever study, which signals the beginning of a new wave of cancer treating therapies. We urgently need better treatments for brain tumours and this could help direct treatment to exactly where it’s needed.”
The tests involved animals where the stem cells were surrounded with gel and placed at the side of the brain tumour after it had been removed, with the cancer cells then dying as they had no defence against the toxins. Researchers at the molecular neurotherapy and imaging lab at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Havard Medical School said that the results were very positive and genetically engineering stem cells can make toxic resistant stem cells that can make and release cancer-killing drugs.
So far the technique has only been tested in mice and on cancer cells in the lab, so much more work will need to be done before it is known whether it could help patients with brain tumours, although cancer charities have hailed this type of research as helping to boost survival rates and bring much-needed progress for brain cancers.
It is hoped that this treatment could be used in clinical trials within the next five years.
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